KPBS AIRDATE: February 9, 1994 >
Question: Is it possible for a father to be too supportive of a son? This is an issue Jeff Mitchell grapples with every day. His mother is dead. He lives with his dad. Jeff is 24, cute and gay, and his father is 300% accepting. When Jeff leaves the local bar and brings home a guy for the night, his father serves them breakfast in bed. Some of the boys find it a bit too homey. But Jeff and his father have a real relationship, and that’s the real strength of “The Sum of Us,” by Australian writer David Stevens. The piece won the Obie Award for best Off-Broadway play of 1991. And it’s easy to see why. The characters are everyday folk, the humor is hearty but not sitcom, the conflicts are believable, and the poignant moments aren’t soppy and sentimentalized.
All this is captured beautifully in the North Coast Repertory Theatre production. Director Rosina Reynolds has a light touch and a feel for the energy and the issues of the play. The pacing is just right — easy, just like the terrific father-son interactions. Peter Rose and Kevin Patrick Walls do great justice to that duo. The Aussie accents don’t drag them down; they punch up the jokes and banter and spar and care for each other in a very touching way. As Harry, Rose is very paternal, even avuncular: warm, caring, maybe a bit overbearing, cringing as his son, a plumber, withdraws from ambitious pursuits and love. Walls is a delight as Jeff, endearing, a bit melancholy, a good guy with a good heart. Their moments together make the play hum. The secondary characters, two love interests, sometimes stop the music.
As Greg, J.D. Meier looks like a hunk, but we can’t quite believe that this gardener also reads poetry. Wendy Cullum plays Joyce, whom Harry meets through an introduction service and is ready to wed before he gets around to mentioning his son’s “cheerfulness” as he calls it; “I can’t bear that other word,” he says, although he spends half the evening taking friendly gay pot-shots at Jeff. Well, he has to be accepting; his own mother had a long, loving homosexual relationship.
Anyway, back to Joyce. She should add some female energy and more than a little tension to the mix, but she bogs down the proceedings with a molasses delivery and painful accent that makes her sound like she’s got a toothache. Fortunately, it’s a small role, and we can get back to Jeff, Harry, and their internal monologues to the audience. Those could get old, but they’re not over-written and are handled quite capably by director and cast. There’s no pat, happy ending here; the final scene is touching, a bit unpredictable, and not at all manipulative.
Drag your straight, gay and homophobic friends to “The Sum of Us.” And don’t forget your parents. “Our children,” Harry tells us, explaining the title, “are only the sum of us. What we add up to.” There’s a little number for everyone in this equation.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.