Redgrave is poignant in reminiscence

February 03, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

The most moving sections of Lynn Redgrave's one-woman show, "Shakespeare for My Father," aren't by Shakespeare. They occur when the actress discusses her feelings for her father.

Her father was the late Sir Michael Redgrave -- an actor himself, as well as the son, father and grandfather of actors. (Lynn's sister is Vanessa and her niece is Natasha Richardson, all actresses of considerable repute.)

Lynn Redgrave's feelings for her father are so intense -- running the gamut from fearful to conflicted to accepting -- it's difficult to believe she's willing to re-live them night after night. But for the past year she has, at theaters across the country, on Broadway and currently at Ford's Theatre in Washington.

The evening begins with an account of her visiting her parents a decade ago and sneaking a peek at material her father had assembled for his autobiography. She finds a family photo with everyone smiling except her. Then she looks up her birthday in his journal, only to discover there's no mention of her birth.

Intermingled with such reminiscences are Shakespearean scenes, sonnets and songs, including some of the more obvious father-daughter selections from "King Lear," and a few of the Bard's favorite hits, such as Hamlet's "To be or not to be" and Prospero's "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

But even such well-known scenes -- especially those scenes -- are difficult to bring to life out of context. The difficulty is exacerbated by Redgrave's efforts to put the scenes in the context of her relationship with her father, and also because the anthology format offers little opportunity to truly inhabit the characters.

For the most part, Redgrave seems more comfortable with the comic scenes. She is especially amusing when she imitates famous fellow Thespians -- Richard Burton coming backstage to greet her during the Broadway run of "My Fat Friend" ("He sounded like Anthony Hopkins doing a bad imitation of him"), and, best of all, Noel Coward, Maggie Smith and Edith Evans during rehearsals of "Hay Fever."

After such bright interludes, the depth of Redgrave's tangled emotions for her father creeps up in the second act with unexpected force. The effect is a stirring dramatic approximation of the way these feelings must have flooded into her life after his death from Parkinson's disease. This part of the show will strike a poignant chord with anyone who's ever grappled with the death of a parent.

Most of the stories Redgrave tells can be found in her autobiography/Weight Watchers cookbook, "This Is Living," but they take on added strength when presented live in "Shakespeare for My Father." That is the best proof that not only has the actress learned to cope with her feelings for her father, but she has also learned his lesson about the power of theater to transform audiences as well as actors.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Shakespeare for My Father"

Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St., N.W., Washington

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; matinees 3 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Feb. 2 and 12; and 1 p.m. Feb. 17 and 24. Through Feb. 27

Tickets: $23-$34

Call: (202) 347-4833

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