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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.


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.



  • 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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