In Richard Hoehler’s Fathers and Sons, a fictional playwright—also named Richard, and played by Hoehler himself—assures his co-star that the new drama he has written (also entitled Fathers and Sons) is “nothing like” Turgenev’s classic novel by the same name. That’s too bad: A hearty dose of 19th-century Russian nihilism might have lent much-needed complexity to Hoehler’s soppy meditation on parents and offspring.
In this creakily self-referential soap opera, directed by Chris Dolman, Hoehler’s fictional alter ego stages a series of intergenerational confrontations, starring himself and his “real-life” protégé, Edwin (Edwin Matos Jr.). One vignette features Edwin as a young Latino man embarrassed by his illiterate father; in another, he’s a young actor who seduces his mentor, then suffers the consequences. And their production is under pressure: Richard has snagged a long-coveted backers’ audition with the Public Theater.
As they rehearse these episodes in a theater’s shabby backstage, Edwin and Richard unearth the roots of their own filial and paternal angst (surprise: Each is missing a father or a son!). Every fictional scene dissolves into a “real” screaming match or a tearful psychological breakthrough. (Richard’s office-turned-crash-pad lurks upstage like his omnipresent unconscious.) To Hoehler, artistic creation is a blunt tool for exhuming buried personal truths—an apt approach to therapy, perhaps, but a worn-out vision of the power of theater.