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Fathers and Sons in Steppenwolf History
2003-2004, Volume 4
From the time Oedipus tore apart Thebes trying to prove he was not just a momma's boy, playwrights, directors, actors, and audiences have been coming to terms with the bond — or lack thereof — between a man and his male offspring. This season's production of I Never Sang for My Father showcases Robert Anderson's semi–autobiographical entry in this conversation, and it gives us occasion to reflect on other fathers and sons who have worked through their issues on the Steppenwolf stage.
ORPHANS by Lyle Kessler, 1985
"That's a tragedy. Every young man's shoulders need an encouraging squeeze now and then...Makes you feel like there's hope...This is what you missed." — Harold
Abandoned by an unfaithful father, orphaned by the untimely death of their mother, Treat and Phillip have grown up without guidance and without hope. Treat has affected the role of father — relegating Phillip to childhood. Their world depends on Treat's ability to intimidate and Phillip's ignorance. A surrogate father appears in Harold, a Chicago gangster on the lam, who at once breaks down their fragile world of mutual dependence, and offers them both a glimpse of a better life.
SIDE MAN by Warren Leight, 1999
"I used to wonder how he could sense everything while he was blowing, and almost nothing when he wasn't. Now I just wonder how many more chances will I have to hear him blow." — Clifford
Clifford has always been the link between his parents, and the embodiment of their relationship. Consequently, he is also the way they strike at each other. Gene is trumpet player first, man second, and father and husband a distant third. In trying to reconcile his relationship to Gene, Clifford has to give up his notions of fatherhood to simply see Gene for who he is: a man alone in the world with his passion.
THE CRYPTOGRAM by David Mamet, 1996
"You know, Robert always said: we disagreed about it. From the first. And his theory was "let the child cry." — Donny
Mamet's play about disillusionment and betrayal places young John on the edge of a critical loss: his father has abandoned him. Nothing here is as it seems: The absent father. The knife. The trip. All of these things seem to be one thing, indicative of a certain reality, but in fact they are contrary. The father isn't coming home for a weekend trip, he's left forever. The knife isn't a war trophy or a sentimental memento, it's a cheap souvenir and a bribe. The fishing trip never happened, it was a cover for an affair. John doesn't understand it, and possibly never will.
THE HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter, 1989
"They're very warm people, really. Very warm. They're my family. They're not ogres." — Teddy
Everything here hinges upon physical strength. The father, Max, glorifies his youth as "a tearaway," but now must defend himself against his own sons. Lenny is a gambler and a pimp, Joey is in demolition by day and a boxer by night. The third son, Terry, has left and rejected this world, becoming a professor of Philosophy. He returns to, perhaps, prove to himself and his father that he is the more enlightened — the bigger person. But he can't stand up to the primordial aggression he finds.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, 1980
"I'll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England." — Willy Loman
Willy Loman can't figure out when it all went wrong, or who to blame. But he feels his life winding down, and he can't stand it. His sons, though just beginning to taste life, already feel the same insecurity, and the same discontent. Biff and Happy are beginning to suspect what their father would never accept: that the world may not pay much attention to demands for dignity and respect.