In Tupelo County, Georgia, the setting of the play Father, Son & Holy Coach, which opened at the Odyssey Theatre this weekend, the annual children’s Easter egg hunt is practically as competitive as the Hunger Games. This one-man semi-autobiographical show written and performed by John Posey tells the story of a complicated relationship between father and son, set against the backdrop of football.
Throughout the 90-minute play, Posey plays over 20 characters—essentially an entire town. Football is life in Tupelo County—star players become local A-list celebrities and the stadium is more expensive than the high school. As soon as he was out of diapers, John’s father was prepping him to follow in his footsteps as a star football player, in high school and beyond, often to the detriment of a healthy parent/child relationship. John’s father’s own football career ultimately ended in disappointment, and he will do whatever it takes to see his child fulfill the expectations he failed to live up to himself. Football is certainly a major character in the story, but you could easily replace it with just about anything else and the themes would still ring true.
Father, Son & Holy Coach has been around for some time—Posey first debuted the show in 1993 and has performed it in many cities across the country since. In the past year, Posey and his family suffered two monumental losses—his father, Ed, whom the show is so much about, and also his wife and mother of his sons. This grief inspired Posey to stage this new, updated version of the show, directed by Terri Hanauer. Posey’s two sons, Jesse and Tyler (the star of MTV’s Teen Wolf) serve as executive producers, and watched proudly from the front row on opening night.
The intimate Odyssey is the perfect space for Pete Hickok’s set, which manages to be both segmented and cohesive, including a living room, a football field, a locker room—all of the major locations necessary to tell the story. The show also makes excellent use of audio recordings, video projections, and even photos of Posey’s actual family to add some dimension to the simple production.
The story follows a logical progression from childhood to adulthood, with many funny anecdotes along the way. Posey is a very physical performer, really becoming each of the characters he plays, making them distinct without the luxury of costume changes or other identifying features. When describing a particularly eventful wrestling match he was in in college (he joined wrestling at his father’s request, of course, so he could become stronger for football) he doesn’t hesitate to thrash around on the floor, bringing the moment to life all on his own. He has a magnetic stage presence that keeps you engaged throughout the 90 minutes, not an easy feat for a one-man show.
While the play is certainly very comedic, it is also very poignant, particularly as it approaches the end. The little stories of training for Easter egg hunts, dating a cheerleader, and running around in homemade jock straps are definitely humorous, but they also all highlight a relationship that is, in many ways, functionally dysfunctional. As long as John is playing football and succeeding, he and his father get along great, but when anything threatens that, it throws off their entire relationship.
Any child can relate to the struggle of wanting to please their parents. For better or for worse, we all start out in life wanting to be the best version of ourselves to do right by the people who have given us everything. Of course, this path is different for everyone, but the themes in Father, Son & Holy Coach are very universal and touching. Even if football is not your thing (it’s certainly not mine), there is surely something in Posey’s honest, from-the heart piece that will speak to you.
Father, Son & Holy Coach runs at the Odyssey through March 20th with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.holycoach.net.