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Theatre / All the Way Home

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All the Way Home is a 1960 play by Tad Mosel. An adaptation of James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1957 novel A Death in the Family, the play itself won a Pulitzer for Drama in 1961.

Jay and Mary Follett are a married couple in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1915. Jay works as a lawyer for his father-in-law, Joel Lynch. The Folletts have a six-year-old son, Rufus, who is a quiet and sensitive child. Mary has just learned that she is pregnant again, and worries about how to tell Rufus, as that discussion may require The Talk.

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The action opens with the arrival of Jay's abrasive, alcoholic brother Ralph, an undertaker, along with the rest of the Folletts: Ralph's wife Sally and son Jim Wilson, and Ralph and Jay's parents, John Henry and Jessie. The whole family goes off to visit 104-year-old Great-Great-Grandmaw, bringing together five generations of Folletts. Jay and Mary go back home and have a talk about life and the distance between people. Then Jay gets a panicked call from Ralph about their father having a medical emergency. Eventually, tragedy strikes.

Lillian Gish appeared in the original cast as Mary's mother Catherine. A 1963 film adaptation starred Jean Simmons as Mary and Robert Preston as Jay, while a 1971 Hallmark Hall of Fame television version starred Joanne Woodward as Mary and Richard Kiley as Jay. Pat Hingle played Ralph in both the 1963 and 1971 adaptations. A 1981 stage production was broadcast live on NBC; Sally Field starred as Mary, with William Hurt as Jay and Ned Beatty as Ralph.

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Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Ralph arrives at Jay and Mary's house drunk and belligerent, swigging from a flask hidden in his coat. Jay apparently had a drinking problem in his past that he quit by Going Cold Turkey.
  • Censorship by Spelling: The conservative Mary worries about how to explain to Rufus that she is pregnant. She tells her husband, "Jay, I don't want him asking any q-u-e-s-t-i-o-n-s." Jay laughs and says that won't work as Rufus can spell better than they can.
  • Dissonant Laughter: Mary is sobbing and drinking whiskey when Catherine says, "Mother said in times of stress the best thing to drink was buttermilk." Everyone else dissolves in hysterical cackling laughter.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Mary demands whiskey and starts downing shots after hearing about Jay's death in the accident.
  • Ear Trumpet: Mary's mostly deaf mother Catherine wears one. Catherine's mishearing things and people having to shout into the ear trumpet are a running gag.
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  • Establishing Character Moment: Jay's opening scene in which he comforts Rufus after the Gang of Bullies made Rufus cry establishes him as a caring and affectionate father.
  • Gang of Bullies: The four neighborhood kids who seem to like nothing more than to scream at Rufus that he has "a n***r name".
  • It's All About Me: Rufus is a complete prick before the funeral, shouting about how angry he is that they took Jay to a local undertaker instead of letting him handle it.
  • Maiden Aunt: Mary's Aunt Hannah, there to lend support after Jay is killed. After Hannah says Mary has to rely on God, a hysterical Mary says "Oh Aunt Hannah, you never had anything but God! I had a man."
  • Running Gag: Catherine's deafness and misunderstanding things. Twice characters go to answer the telephone and Catherine says "Bathroom?"
  • Someone to Remember Him By: The play ends with Mary finally explaining to Rufus that she's going to have a baby.
  • Widow's Weeds: Mary puts on the standard black dress and veil for the funeral.
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