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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
John is a Father
Six years after his only son is killed in Afghanistan, John Owens, arecovered alcoholic, meets his widowed daughter-in-law and 7-year-old grandson for the first time. A kind of reconciliation is brokered. 75 minutes, over and out.
What feels on the page like a five-finger exercise for a playwriting class is in Dan Bonnell's production at the Road Theatre a thing of beauty. His production contains barely a false note or a wasted second. Furthermore, any chance for audiences to watch The Road's artistic director Sam Anderson take the stage as an actor is an opportunity not to be missed. Playing the title character, an understated and quiet Anderson earns every line on John's careworn face.
John is a Father is made up of three short scenes, followed by an important encounter. On a Los Angeles street corner, John visits Edward (Mark Costello), the homeless veteran to whom he regularly brings food. It's a temporary goodbye. John is going away for a few days to Arizona and he has brought Edward an extra couple pieces of fruit. Edward served in Vietnam. John, who is Edward's age, was never in the military. This ranklesEdward. "I don't like draft dodgers," Edward says. "I was in prison, Edward, returns John, not explaining why.
That's how this play unfolds: with bits of key information becoming revealed at each encounter. A closed-off man, John doesn't say much; he neither passes judgment nor reacts openly to judgment from others. In the airport, a chatty and slightly nosy couple, Kenneth and Doug (Carl J. Johnson and John Gowans) get John to drop a few more bits of key information about his trip. Turns out John was not invited to his son's funeral and he has never met his daughter-in-law or grandson.” This is a big trip for you,” Doug says. “I can't imagine how you must feel,” adds Kenneth.
Kenneth makes a point of saying that he is against the war and John doesn't disagree. They give John napkins, a magazine, a candy bar and some unobtrusive advice. It's a gentle and lovely scene, full of simple acts of kindness. Gowans and Johnson take a couple who could easily be played for easy laughs and turn them into genuinely believable characters.
During John's encounter with his son's widow, Patricia (Hillary Schwartz), the rest of John's history comes out. John is holding onto a lifetime's worth of guilt and Patricia is nursing some of her own. She's an ex-Marine with a bossy streak, and she has plenty of opinions both about what John has done in the past and what he should be doing now. Her son Reggie (the role is shared by Elliot Decker and Jackson Dollinger) has been asking about his grandfather and John is here at Patricia's invitation.
John is effectively trapped between an intense desire for reconciliation and the urge to flee. Patricia gets it and she won't let him leave. Schwartz, who could be even pushier, shows us her character's struggle, and her work with Anderson makes their scene together by turns uncomfortable and life-affirming. We spend a good 15 minutes anxiously awaiting Reggie's arrival and when it comes, the payoff is significant.
Myatt could have ended her play right there, but she has written one final scene back in Los Angeles. John returns to visit Edward to give him more fruit and the souvenir he promised to bring him from the flight. This epilogue-like scene roots John is a Father as a war play and as a tale both of what we lose and what we might regain, both in combat and on the home front.
Embodying all these themes is Anderson's John Owens, a seventy-something everyman with bad knees, a cowboy hat that has seen better days, and the courage to finally face some past demons. John is by no means an easy character but, in Anderson's hands, we know that the man will find his way home.