Father, Son and Holy Coach
Reviewed by Paul Birchall
A guest production at the Odyssey Theatre
Through March 30
Writer/performer John Posey’s solo show is about the strained relationship between a driven football-crazed dad and his more laidback and thoughtful son. In the program, Posey notes that the story is not autobiographical, though it does contain elements of real life and is drawn from the stories of people he knew growing up in the Deep South.
Posey sets his piece in Tupelo, Georgia, where high school football is King. Dad, a former football star turned school coach, wants nothing more than to make his young son John into a football star as well. As John, Posey recounts how his dad crafted an elaborate strategy to ensure this, starting with forcing his son to participate as a 5 year-old in the Tupelo Spring Easter Egg Hunt (which apparently is attended by football scouts for some reason).
Later, after John chokes during one of his first football games, his dad enrolls him on the wrestling team. But the boy soils himself during an important match, and the girl he loves laughs at him from the stands. That should have been enough to send dad and son into therapy – but alas, the dad-pressure continues until John has made it into college and finds himself torn between football and his true dreams of becoming an architect.
Football – and the enthusiasm for football — is a major theme in this play. I want to say, “You don’t have to like football to enjoy Posey’s show,” but, alas, you kind of do. In my high school days, I actively forged letters from my parents to get out of gym class. I even hid once or twice in the bathroom to avoid dodgeball, not to mention football. A lot of the focus in this play — on masculine bonding via downs and passes and cleats and goalposts — might as well have been in Martian, for all I can relate.
That said, Posey’s play is at its most involving when it dances around what motivations lurk behind the father’s ceaseless, almost angry pushing of his son to succeed where he failed. And Posey himself is an energetic, often charismatic performer, who bounds about the stage like a varsity athlete. His turns as the play’s other characters — from a wisecracking sports radio announcer, to the flinty father, to a mentally handicapped friend of the son — show a surprisingly nuanced breadth of personality.
But director Terri Hanauer is unable to rein in Posey’s tendency to milk his lines or occasionally insert awkward pauses. Designer Pete Hickok’s sets – a football locker room and Dad’s living room —create an arresting ambiance. Yee Eun Nam’s cool video projections conjure up a pitch perfect air of nostalgia.
Ultimately, though, the unintended star of the show is its central set piece, a gigantic easy chair shaped like a football helmet, in which the dad figure sits to watch his football games. It’s an amazing chair, with a cherry red Georgia Bulldog logo on the sides, and vinyl cushions in the center that look so comfy you want to storm the stage and just settle down into the seat for the entire show. Unfortunately, Posey has the chair covered with a shroud for most of his solo piece, but it’s a dazzler when we see it.
Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West LA. Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 20. (323) 960-7724 of www.holycoach.com. Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission.