…what the end will be is a new work that looks closely at the often-complex relationship between fathers and sons. Thus, we are looking back on other shows in Roundabout’s canon to explore depictions of fathers and sons and the ways that this familial relationship is dramatized.
Roundabout has staged Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy twice (1980 at Roundabout’s first venue, 26th Street; and again in 2013 at American Airlines Theatre℠). The play is about a boy, Ronnie, accused of stealing during his military training. Rather than face his strict father, Ronnie stands out in the rain fearful of what his father will do. Arthur, the father, upon learning about the accusations says, “Why didn’t you come to me now? Why did you have to go and hide in the garden? … Are you so frightened of me?... If you did it, you must tell me. I shan’t be angry with you, Ronnie – provided you tell me the truth. But if you tell me a lie, I shall know it, because a lie between you and me can’t be hidden.” (The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan, Roundabout Production Script.) This interaction is one that is played out in drama (as in life) repeatedly – a son so afraid of his father’s response that he would sooner lie than confront his father’s disapproving reaction.
Man and Boy (also by Terence Rattigan) was staged in 2011 (American Airlines Theatre) and portrays a father-son relationship even more at odds. In a post-show lecture given by Maria Aitken, the play’s director, she discussed this father and son dynamic: “It’s really a story of two people who misunderstand the nature of their relationship. The boy thinks he hates his father and, of course, he adores him. Gregor [the father] thinks he’s indifferent to his son, but he isn’t, and the one great romantic family sacrifice he makes is to push his son out of that door at the end. It would have been easy for Gregor to keep him in the room, but he doesn’t. The play changes direction—you think the whole play is going to be about [the character Mark] Herries and homosexuality, which it isn’t. It’s simply about the way this relationship plays out in various stages…”
Steven Levenson’s play The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin (staged in 2013, Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre), took a serious look at the fraught relationship between a father returning from prison and his distant and disappointed son. In a reversal of traditional father and son dynamics, the father shows up unannounced at his son’s new home and first asks for a loan, and then for a temporary place to stay. The son agrees, grudgingly, and only if the stay will be a secret between them. The father, played by David Morse, fails to see the broken bond between him and the son he was forced to leave years ago.
And in the spring of 2020 just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic closing theatres, Hilary Bettis’s 72 Miles To Go (staged at Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre) explored the difficult relationship between stepfather Billy (played by Triney Sandoval) and his stepson Christian, played by Bobby Moreno. Christian’s mother, who is married to Billy, is a Mexican immigrant who has been deported. In Roundabout’s Upstage Guide, Bettis summarizes the relationship in these words: “I think the relationship between Billy and Christian is about how these two men – who deeply love and need each other – navigate a father/ son relationship when it’s not blood that bonds them. ”
Father and son relationships can be complicated. Families can be complicated. Seeing the different ways that people connect (or just as often, don’t) is one of the more cathartic aspects of theatre. We see in these relationships reflections of our own lives. Our Archives provide some of those entrance points, revealing patterns that help us feel the universality of our human condition.