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All My Children (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on August 24, 2012

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The narrator of Matt Smith‘s self-authored, one man show, All My Children, goes by the name Max Poth – an unassuming, if not altogether uninteresting handle to swing through life on. The dictionary gives a definition of pother as a verb meaning to harass and perplex. This little revelation gives you something of the low-key, thoughtful style of engagement Smith uses to come at a subject, and there’s much more of it in evidence in his writing and performance of this, really, quite twisted tale of a middle aged man, who fixates on the idea that there’s a slender chance – but not really – six of his past girlfriends may have borne his children in unions they made with subsequent partners. Six of them. But not really. This sets Poth off on the trail of the far-flung offspring, hardly hesitating to draw breath, before he arranges meetings with each in order to relay the, er, news.

We first meet Max at some sort of support group where he addresses us as his fellow attendees. He doesn’t reveal much about himself, and the focus of the group is sketchy – something to do with self-improvement – which is why his unselfconscious announcement of this fraudulent project is all the more perplexing; and/or breathtaking. Indeed he hardly skips a beat as he launches straight into how the first meeting with “his eldest”, Jennifer, went. Not well. Which perhaps spurs him on to the next. Such alarming egotism – and is it simply mischief making? – compels, and we are enrapt as, in rambling order, we are introduced to five additional unsuspecting strangers, while Max stretches himself to include everyone. It’s appalling and it’s funny, and that’s some clever cocktail to shake. Actually it’s more than clever. It’s brilliant.

Smith as a writer has a canny sense of how much information it takes to convince, and how much can be left out so that an audience will enter a tale. There’s a masterful game of hold or play going on. He’s sharp enough to throw out humdrum-seeming details that quietly glow – the sense of boundless enterprise a comfortable train ride can induce; what it might mean for someone to be in a kitchen “not cooking”; a faded My Little Pony tattoo. Shrewd enough too not to bother with the larger details, such as why? why? and why? You don’t have to have studied Advanced Narrative. Just don’t be stupid. Some areas are left pointedly grey, which is as it so often is with the texture of life.

Smith’s delivery partakes most naturally of the style of Max Poth, a digressive, elliptical narrator who will tell it as he sees fit – unabashedly, selfishly, cynically. He’s not interested in talking to anyone about their cancer- “I’m waiting for that conversation to end.” But he’s someone who notices things about people that others might not, and he acts – in his roundabout way – to help. He doesn’t explain this. It’s just evident in his story. Preposterous and wrong-headed, Max proves peculiarly winning when it comes to his capacity to stick with his highly individual “progeny”; like some sort of satellite dad with sub-particle sensitivity powers. He makes a virtue of mockery when he bribes one of his “daughters’ to give him an Eskimo nose rub in a diner, while intoning koobie-boobies. It’s plausible this icky baby talk acts as a sort of strange soul food for both parties. Max doesn’t say this, but odd things occur afterward.

Max doesn’t know what he wants from these exchanges. Perhaps his dry, detached style has shorn his life of melodrama, and he needs a fix. None of “his kids” prove particularly disposed toward that humor, so perhaps he has to up the ante a little. He doesn’t want to answer the phone to his “real family” – who are ringing all the time now, thank you! – but there may be a way. Something that involves a measure of bribery; an allusion to an inheritance; a conditional gathering. The imagined scenario proves thrilling not just for Max, but the audience, who at this point are putty in his hands. Who are all but convinced, it might, after all, not be such a bad thing for the other parties involved to drop along. Or at least, if Max Poth gets to tell the story. Or rather, Matt Smith. Directed by long time collaborator Bret Fetzer, this is sophisticated, sharp, and wise comedy, delivered by an actor at the top of his game. Miss it and you lose.


All My Children
Matt Smith
Writer: Matt Smith
Director: Bret Fetzer
Max Poth 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). A strange lark takes on a life of its own.
1h 30m   National   Seattle, Washington
Comedy   Solo Show
Staycation: In Someone Else’s Shoes   Family Vacation
VENUE #09: The Gene Frankel Theatre
Tue 14 @ 3:45  Sun 19 @ 7:30  Thu 23 @ 8:30  Fri 24 @ 2:45  Sun 26 @ 12


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