Being Daddy By Thomas Putnam
My father died twenty years ago. He lived to see nearly ten years of his son's involvement with Hamilton-Gibson Productions. (My mother died before HG even began; it's difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that she never knew about something that has been so much a part of my life for over 30 years.) My dad died the day after we closed our production of South Pacific. I don't think there's any significance in that, only that it provides context in the timeline of things.
I am a softie for plays that include fathers and sons. HG's very first musical was a The Yearling. More people have read the novel than have even heard of the musical, let alone seen it. I was drawn to it—way back in 1991—I'm sure because I love the relationship of Penny and his son, plus the music was charming. I played the dad. There's something moving and heartbreaking and real about a son who struggles with a relationship with his dad, and about fathers who just can't figure out how to affirm and grow a healthy boy.
I played Atticus Finch in our production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus has always held a fascination for me, not only for his defense of the falsely accused, but perhaps more his working his way through parenthood—and the even more challenging single parenthood. His relationship with Scout is one thing; but his relationship with his son Jem has always pulled me in.
There are other father/son relationships that HG has explored. We're exploring another one this weekend. Mr. Banks: banker, stiff-upper-lip Edwardian, and father of two. The challenges of a son trying desperately to know how to please his father and yearning to spend time with him. The challenges of a father who struggles to provide materially for his family and his seeming inability to discover how to connect with his son. There are very few lines in Mary Poppins between father and son, but those few are packed full of revelation of this struggling relationship...and it hurts...and it's beautiful.
I am incredibly grateful that Matt Huels (of Tioga) and Collin Hoke (of Westfield) auditioned for this production. They climb into the skin of their characters and walk around in it. As Lauren Gunderson says, empathy is the superpower of theatre. The opportunity to climb into another's skin; it's priceless.
My dad's first name was George. Mr. Banks first name is George. There's no real significance in that coincidence, but I sat in the last row of Straughn Auditorium last night grateful for the wonderful performance of all those on stage and the efforts of all those off stage and the warm response of a fairly large audience. Every time Collin talked to or about “Daddy”, I thought of my own sons. I thought about my dad. Thanks for the kite-flying.