THEATER REVIEW: Sometimes it feels like some fatherless guys

Finding Fathers/ Space 360, Hudson

WALKING THE DOG Theater presentations are sometimes accompanied by “work in progress” caveats, especially when there is a home-grown element involved — when its original creator is not a Chekhov, a Thornton Wilder or a Shakespeare but a person or persons from the company.

“Finding Fathers” is the work two of the company’s actors, Eddie Allen and Rob Leo Roy. If one has ever been to acting class, s/he will identify the project at Space 360 as the work of talented students working out a complex series of improvisations rather than as a finished play.

It deals with maleness and the culturally determined, 1950-ish blessings of fatherhood — and the lack thereof. As a society, we have cherished those protective, educational, problem-solving stances of traditional daddy. The fact that women have always provided large swaths of protection, education, and problem-solving is a reality mostly avoided in “Finding Fathers.” Still, Eddie’s mother is mutely present from the beginning. Mom is a corpse, wrapped in an oriental (the adjective is not lost on us) carpet. With great effort, the men have brought her to a remote, wild and dangerous spot in the woods. (Yes. Into the woods.) Off and on throughout the play, they try to bury her, settling finally for an above-ground rock-grave. All the while, she lies there, a not-so-mute metaphor and probably the freshest element of the evening. No matter how many rocks they pile on her, she speaks, although these characters (and the authors) may be too busy wallowing in bland communication with fatherly ghosts to hear.

Along the way there are lots of personal differences, irritations, competitions and warm connections between the two men. The long list of traditional daddy stuff that the two reel off and mourn (how to bait a hook, drive a stick shift, light a cigar) is fun and telling, although one may wonder if its absence in their lives deserves all this angst. There is something whiney and boring about bemoaning one’s lack of a father through most of an evening, and the how-much-affection-should-dad-show-his-children is a tired theme, unless the authors find a new way of probing it.

This work is directed by Walking the dog’s Artistic Director, David Anderson; but the project lacks his frequent keen, communicative impact. If Anderson is on stage, there is an irresistible, demand to “Be with me! Be with me!” He has set a standard. On Saturday, that was missing from the performances in “Finding Fathers.”

In fact, it might be a revealing exercise to cast this piece with other actors, the better for the authors to sit mid-audience and cast beady eyes upon it. Perhaps the pair would trade some of their easy, pop-culture elements for more universalisms and more poetry. Or they might decide to lean absurdist or tilt toward Abbott and Costello.

Also, even when it gets slapped down by vops of humor, sentimentalism cannot ride too long. The device occurs again and again, and Saturday’s audience responded appreciatively. (But still the sentimentalism went on too long.) In western culture, taste for a certain brand of maleness and “fatherness” may have almost disappeared. In spite of Rick Perry in 2011 and Robert Bly in 1990 (“Iron John: a Book About Men”), maleness and femaleness seems, after all, to be mostly stuff between the legs, with, ultimately, a more genetic than psychological influence on offspring.

Audiences should attend “Finding Fathers” thinking that it may be a workshop. Workshops are valuable to both creators and audiences; but this Wtd fan hopes that the company keeps them carefully defined and mixed with the productions they dare to call finished.

The piece runs (with changes along the way) through December 11. Call 518 610-0909 for information and tickets.

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