Written By Julie Marie Myatt
Directed by Dan Bonnell
"John Is a Father" is the second play this 25th anniversary season at The Road Theatre by the multi-award-winning playwright Julie Marie Myatt. Although it’s a quite different play from the first, "Birder," it is just as transformative and just as beautifully written.
"John Is a Father" revolves around a recovering alcoholic, John, played by the artistic director of The Road Theatre Company Sam Anderson, who unexpectedly receives an invitation to meet his seven-year-old grandson from his estranged son’s widow.
As the story unfolds, we understand more and more about John’s relationship with his son and why he stayed away. We follow this quiet and broken man as he reconnects with the world, interacts with strangers and old friends, and makes his solemn way to meet his son’s son.
I’m not sure I would call this a tale of redemption, it’s not quite that. In fact it’s far more than that. John is so destroyed by his own regrets that he is paper thin, almost transparent, unable to bare the world at all. It takes all his strength to make this journey, and that’s not to say that he doesn’t understand and even agree with the breach between he and his son, he truly seems to. So for a man to know how hated he was and to still risk every little part of himself that remains in order to answer his grandson’s call, is quite something, and quite something to create on stage.
I think this is a play about bravery, the kind of bravery that most of us thankfully will never have to face. The kind that only those who have deeply hurt and wronged another will ever know. John hurt his son, both physically and emotionally, and his ex-wife, and it is this that he has never forgiven himself for. His grandson has asked to meet him and that is clearly the only reason John would ever dare to travel across the country and risk total rejection and humiliation. He is so afraid, at every step, and this is what humanizes him, this is what binds us to him and why this play is so deeply effective.
"John Is a Father" is beautifully written, the lines so clever and telling and true that I found myself completely swept along, and my heart ached from almost the very first line to the very last.
Sam Anderson is just breathtaking as John. His stillness, his frailty, his total embodiment of the character was so touching and so compelling that I think it is quite the most brilliant performance I have seen for some time.
The rest of the cast are also astounding. The roles are smaller of course, but each of the characters are completely full and perfectly real. Mark Costello plays Edward, a slightly grouchy homeless man, a friend of John’s, who he brings fresh fruit to every day. They have a tender and deep friendship and Mr Costello brings this wonderfully to life. Carl J. Johnson and John Gowans play a couple John meets while he waits at the airport for his flight. They are gay, obviously, but that isn’t at all a point to their scene, which is lovely. They are just a funny couple who befriend John for a few minutes and wish him well on his adventure. With each of these encounters we learn a little more about John and are deeper connected to him, so that by the time he reaches his destination we are as nervous for him as he is.
The daughter in law Patricia is played with frankness, depth and care by the fabulous Hilary J. Schwartz and her struggle to not betray her husband's memory by bringing her son and John together is a very real presence in her scenes. The grandson was played by Elliot Decker the night I saw the play, and he was just wonderful…but the alternate is Jackson Cole Dollinger, and I am sure he will be too.
Be prepared to weep profusely throughout this wonderful and deeply touching play, I know I did.
Forgiveness is the hardest of choices, and to forgive oneself is sometime the hardest choice of all.
I am thrilled to have seen both plays by Julie Marie Myatt, directed by Dan Bonnell this very special season at The Road, and I can highly recommend that you do too!!
"John Is a Father" plays at The Road on Lankershim through July 16, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 7pm.
The Cast of "John is a Father" features: Sam Anderson, Mark Costello, Elliot Decker, Jackson Cole Dollinger, John Gowans, Carl Johnson and Hillary J. Schwartz.
The Design Team for "John Is a Father" is as follows: Set Design by Tom Buderwitz; Lighting and Projection Design by Tom Ontiveros; Sound Design by David Marling; Costume Design by Michele Young; The Stage Manager is Maurie Gonzalez. Produced by Donna Simone Johnson and Ann Hearn.