All My Children
nytheatre.com review by Steven Cherry
August 14, 2012
All My Children is a one-man show in which actor, writer, and improv specialist Matt Smith assumes the character of Max Poth, an aging Seattle ex-Microsoftie who takes what-might-have-been to extremes. He tracks down the now-grown children of long-ago girlfriends, and tells them he's their real father (knowing that he's not). That’s not a spoiler, by the way; it’s in the program and copied directly from the blurb at fringenyc.org.
Smith exploits the conventions of memoir by telling the story straight, fully in the first person. In some ways, it would be more intriguing were the audience left to figure it out on its own. In that case, you’d be sitting there in the extra-deep seats of the Gene Frankel Theatre, your thoughts vacillating between “This guy’s an idiot,” “This guy’s an asshole,” and “This guy’s a total asshole.” I should hasten to add that most of your other thoughts would be, “That’s hilarious.”
There are enough telling details to keep the illusion of memoir strong throughout the show. And then it packs a six-pack of a punch at the end that leaves you breathless as Poth’s final act toward his non-children starts all kinds of interesting thoughts about the plastic yet ironbound nature of our connections to family.
For this reviewer, it also inspired thoughts about the memoir genre.
It’s said that truth is stranger than fiction, but what that really means is that memoirists and other true-story-tellers are freer to tell strange stories than are fiction writers, who have to continually worry about straining the suspension of disbelief beyond its breaking point. That’s not a new thought (I teach it to my creative writing students), but Smith turns it on its head because his suspension of disbelief is the memoir format itself. And the telling details are so telling that he’s clearly drawing freely from his own life, most importantly concerning a critical event with his own brothers and sisters.
This is a show that grew on me. It took a while to separate “This guy’s character is an asshole” from “Smith is an asshole.” By the final dramatic event, I liked the show a lot, but it wasn’t until halfway through a Victory Hop Devil India pale ale at a nearby restaurant that I decided I could recommend it unreservedly.