INOLA ON THE AISLE @ MITF: FALL
Jewel Box Theatre @ Workshop Theatre Company
312West 36th Street, 4nd Floor, New York, NY
On Wednesday, November 11, 2015
“The Universal Dad” by PJ Landers, directed by Anthony Grasso, Lighting and Tech by Tony Mann; starring PJ Landers.
The producer, Yasmin Siddiqui, introduces PJ to the audience, and he tells the audience about the other names for fathers, dad, in other languages around the world. He describes the neighborhood where he grew up in Queens, NY. The area to him was the United Nations without interpreters. There were bars on almost every block, and most of the fathers in the neighborhood frequent these taverns if they were not at work. The audience takes in every word out of PJ’s mouth after being mesmerized by his story. Also, the children in the neighborhood considered him to be the lucky one because he didn’t have a father around to abuse him. On Easter Sunday in 1980, PJ’s mom dropped a bombshell on him. She told him that she wasn’t married to his father.
PJ allows the audience to empathize with his mother. He tells his mother’s story that garnered support for him. He says that his grandmother died and his grandfather remarried, and they moved his mother out of her home to a boarding house across the street. The audience understands the plight of PJ’s mother as a teenager; but his grandfather served as his surrogate father. He articulates to the audience how he went to the bars with his grandfather. His grandfather was the king and PJ was the prince to the other guys. PJ says that he gained experience mixing drinks like a bartender at an early age.
PJ lets the audience know of a fight with another guy while he was visiting his grandfather. From his window, his grandfather yelled to him to fight back. He said, “Finish him.” PJ enlightens the audience that he didn’t know what “finish him” meant, but he won the fight by fighting back. Growing up being a red head wasn’t easy for PJ. He tells the audience that he was always accused for everything, true or false; and curious people wanted to know if that was his hair.
Being in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, his father’s name came up in conversation, and he realized then that his mother didn’t make up the story about his father. Years later, while working as an actor, doing background work in a cemetery scene; he started a conversation with another actor and he brought up his father’s name. The need to search for his father came about after his five-month old son grabbed his pinky finger. The bonding moment between PJ and his son triggered something in him, and he decided to search for his own father.
PJ tells the audience about his search. He got the telephone number and address from the Screen Actors Guild, SAG. He called the number without any luck, and he decided to go to Los Angeles. PJ apprises the audience of his wife’s remarks to him after he told her about his plan. She didn’t encourage her Magnum PI husband; but she drove him to the airport to catch the airplane. When PJ got to LA, he rented a car and he drove to his father’s address. After he got to the building, he saw a man in a wheel chair; and he was able to find out from the residents the whereabouts of his father that yielded results. Eventually, the moment of truth came when PJ’s father came down the elevator to the lobby.
PJ tells the audience how he refreshed his father’s memory about his mother and her uncle’s business where they met. By now, PJ is in his father’s apartment, and he wanted him to call his mother. He looked around the apartment, and he called his mother. His father wanted to know what he did for work. Both of them catch up on personal information. He let his father know that he’s an actor and stand-up comic. PJ and his father had dinner at Barone’s Italian Restaurant, and he introduced him as his son to the patrons. After dinner, they went back to the apartment.
PJ tells the audience that his father provided a bed for him in the living room, and they sized up each other before he fell asleep. PJ’s father wanted to look at him, but PJ’s thoughts flashed on his grandpa who died in 1980. He has a hole in his heart for his grandfather although he wanted to sleep and being tired. They were able to have lunch at brunch, and his father told him that he and Joan Collins were friends. PJ and his father took pictures and hug each other; and he watched his father waved goodbye. He wanted to get back to New York City to his son.
PJ communicates to the audience that he kept in touch with his father after he came back to New York City. His father mentioned to PJ that he was scheduled to take some tests at the VA hospital. Not too long after their telephone conversations, PJ says he received a call from his father’s doctor. The doctor told him that his father had advanced lung cancer. PJ asked the doctor specific questions about the status of his father, but the doctor wanted him to come immediately to see his father. PJ tells the audience that he traveled to LA to visit his father in the hospital. He was on the 4th floor in the hospital. He was greeted by his father’s doctor that he was in his last stage in life. PJ utters to the audience that the doctor presented a DNR form, do not resuscitate; but the final decision rested on his father’s signature on the form.
PJ tells the audience that his father asked him about his mother, and he wanted to know what he should do with the paper. PJ let his father know that if he signed the paper, he would be signing his death warrant. PJ’s father had regrets and he acknowledged them on his death bed. He was ready to sign the form, and he wished he had something to leave for PJ. PJ tells the audience that he consoled his father, and he said, “It’s okay, pops.” He comforted him! He said, “Your grandson will know your name.”
PJ says to the audience that he had to come back to New York City because he was booked for a commercial and he had to leave LA. PJ declares again that he was crying on his way to the airport, and he stopped to take in the scenery. He ended up helping some guys to save a whale. The whale looked at him, and he communicated with the whale. He let the audience know that a flat-bed truck was waiting to transport it to an aquarium. After that, people on the scene cheered them on.
When PJ got back to New York City, he told his wife about his experience. Dr. Green called him! PJ relates the doctor’s conversation to the audience. He said, “Your father has expired. His heart failed and they didn’t resuscitate him. PJ says to the audience that he did not cry, but he picked up his son and he hugged him. PJ tells the audience that he promised to tell his son his story and how he met his grandfather.