Richard Hoehler, Edwin Matos, Jr.
It’s difficult to find more than a handful of plays that aren’t ultimately about family. That Richard Hoehler’s new play “Fathers and Sons” wears its subject matter on its sleeve is commendable for its forthright exploration of the kinds of complicated father-son dynamics which most audience members will relate to either directly or indirectly.
Constructed metatheatrically, the play (which is set in a messy rehearsal hall) depicts an aging downtown gay playwright whose new play, also titled Fathers and Sons, is opening soon in New York, focusing in particular on his relationship with the macho Latino actor who portrays the son characters in his play.
Part of the play focuses on this substitute father-son dynamic, over which the two men are constantly bickering, riddled with insecurities and memories of previous losses. In between these here-and-now scenes, we’re privy to a host of selections from the play-within-the-play as well, snippets of dialogue between the father and son characters that complement their real-life relationship.
It’s a clever construction that helps bring the play out of its mostly realistic confines. In a sequence near the end of the play, the actor and playwright mow through a series of snippets from their scenes together, Michael Abrams’s clever lighting aiding in the atmospheric rendering of these two men as inexorably linked both by their lives together on-stage and their experiences working together on this project.
Eventually some of the thrill of the piece wears off, as the play’s focus shifts toward the actor’s rebellion against his playwright friend. While it’s easy for an audience to sympathize with the younger man’s desire to branch out on his own, eventually the back-and-forth arguments wear thin and lack in variety.
In the role of the playwright, the play’s author Richard Hoehler wrings all the empathy he can from an occasionally unsympathetic character. And as the young man, Edwin Matos, Jr. inhabits a number of different characters, including a young gay man and a mentally handicapped person, each with aplomb.
While Fathers and Sons is hardly a work for the ages (Turgenev it ain’t), it’s still got enough bite to satisfy in its own rite, particularly for those of us eager to relive our own father-son relationships; there’s a certain element of catharsis in the material at hand. Though Hoehler’s play could use some fine-tuning, it’s vigorous, funny, and occasionally quite moving.