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Fountain Theatre’s verbatim ‘Fatherland’ portrays Jan. 6 from the inside

With an election coming up and possible presidential pardon for those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – or a possible former president’s conviction – Fountain Theatre’s staging of the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’s “Fatherland” is not only timely but perhaps vital.

From left: Ron Bottitta and Patrick Keleher in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Constructed verbatim from court transcripts, public statements and case evidence, “Fatherland” relates the real-life story of the teenaged son of a Jan. 6 Capitol stormer (neither of them named) who secretly recorded his father’s account of what happened and later testified against him in court.


Thanks to Sachs’s expert staging, though we may know what happened that day, we viscerally experience how one man decided to charge the Capitol — and why his 18-year-old son would report him to the FBI.

Patrick Keleher in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Newcomer Patrick Keleher portrays the son with nuance, capturing his determination beneath a youthful nervousness as the now 19-year-old testifies in court on March 3, 2022.  A prosecuting U.S. attorney (Anna Khaja, channeling Vice President Kamala Harris) questions the boy directly but gently, frequently asking how he feels about what he experienced of his father.


As the son answers, we see both father (a riveting Ron Bottitta) and son in their Texas home enacting events leading to and immediately following Jan. 6, after which the father returns triumphant, proclaiming victory with “no shots fired.”

Anna Khaja in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

The son records his father’s detailed account of Jan. 6, made visceral to the audience through highly synchronized sound and lighting effects (designed by Stewart Blackwood and Alison Brummer, respectively) that simulate gunfire and riotous commotion on an otherwise minimal set with a textured background (scenic design by Joel David).


We feel the father’s adrenaline as he describes and enacts approaching the Capitol amid a throng of likeminded “revolutionaries” geared in bulletproof vests. We learn that security forces tried to hold back the intruders with rubber bullets and tear gas, the father finally brought to his knees on Capitol steps by bear repellent as others continued forward.

Ron Bottitta in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Bottitta shines through this intense sequence, sustaining the father’s zealous demeanor and fanatical tone as he recounts what may have been the highlight of his life.


We previously learned from the son’s testimony that the father had lost his job on an oil rig before becoming active with an anti-government organization in Texas, composed of similarly disenfranchised individuals.

From left: Ron Bottitta and Patrick Keleher in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

We see and hear the father reading aloud from marked passages Donald Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal in a reverential, almost biblical way. We hear snippets of Trump’s voice from media coverage of his speeches, and the father’s pride in recruiting a new member to the conspiratorial organization.


We also learn the father may have physically harmed his wife while both of them were drunk, and similarly threatened his daughter (neither wife nor daughter are portrayed, keeping focus on the father/son dynamic). And we see the father purchase guns and ammunition, driving to Washington, D.C. rather than flying so he can transport those weapons and other military accoutrement.

Larry Poindexter in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Back in court, though, a confident defense attorney (Larry Poindexter) cross-examines the son about his father’s mental health. After getting the son to admit his father may have been taking Xanax for anxiety, he questions why the son recorded the father’s rantings on his phone rather than use the device to call for medical help.


Aiding the defense attorney’s sympathetic portrait, the father wears a slightly oversized brown suit and tie in court, making him appear smaller and weaker, whereas his black t-shirt at home was slightly shrunken, revealing some of his belly when he chugged beer (costuming by Danyele Thomas).

From left: Anna Khaja, Patrick Keleher, Ron Bottitta and Larry Poindexter in "Fatherland" at Fountain Theatre (Photo by Jenny Graham)

As directed by Sachs, the actors nimbly navigate the theatre’s intimate stage in choreographed moves using hardly more than a chair and table. Continual movement allows the play’s verbatim words to feel like a dynamic retelling rather than the simple reading of a transcript.


Aside from its theatrical merits, the show offers an opportunity for audiences, perhaps especially high schoolers approaching voting age, to experience recent history via primary and secondary sources and judge for themselves what they see — before considering how to move forward.


“Fatherland” is thus a fitting gift from Sachs as he retires from his long-held position as artistic director of the theatre, one both finely tuned and in tune with our times.


“Fatherland” has been extended through July 21 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, with performances Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $45 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (323) 663-1525 or visiting Run time is 80 minutes with no intermission.



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