What does it matter where you come from? The question of the truth and our foundational natures is something that artists and philosophers have long wrestled with; Paul David Young’s All My Fathers continues on in this quest. David (Richard Gallagher) visits his elderly, devotedly Christian, cantankerous mother, Regina (Deborah Hedwall), and his benign, kindly, jokester of a father, Bill (Jonathan Hogan). It is clear that time is playing its weathering role mentally and physically, as the father withers and the mother cannot quite seem to hold onto a thought outside of her daily shows. When she reveals a secret from her past that makes David question who he really is and where he came from, tensions mount between the three. Is he the son of his not-quite-present working class father who raised him, or the result of an affair between Regina and the late family pediatrician (Brian Hastert) who has decided to haunt David?
While this sounds like a straightforward soap-opera storyline, the form of All My Fathers is what helps the piece stand out. Lacing literary references throughout the, admittedly sometimes too wordy, monologues and confrontations, All My Fathers has a meta take on the question of nature vs. nurture. So much so, in fact, that the final act becomes a complete breakdown of the fourth wall and a direct manifestation of the playwright’s internal thoughts. The production is a land mine of literary references and wordy monologues that are occasionally a slog to get through and veer on the edge of pretentiousness. While it is revealed to be somewhat knowingly done, that does not negate the effect of having to go through the same trope a multitude of times in a prime example of diminishing returns. That being said, the beauty of the language and the complex sentiments expressed are evocative and the humorous slant on those lost in elitist academics is funny. The shining stars of All My Fathers are Hedwall – whose awful, antagonistic mothering is both scarily accurate and hard to watch – and Hogan – whose sweet pottering and self-aware humor are impossible to not fall in love with. The dialogue of the show stands out above the monologues, as real human interaction is the more intriguing and relevant wordsmithing in this piece.
In today’s age of 23 and me and all the stories of unknown connections and histories, All My Fathers addresses a timeless issue in a very modern way. The question of parentage and where we come from has often haunted lives, literature, and philosophy. Would knowing the truth of your parentage change who you are as a person – in the end, what does it matter when relationship bonds have already been long set? There is a fear of the unknown, but there is also a fear of finally knowing, of having that answer and not being able to change it. Well, not being able to change it except for in the plays we write.