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Lynn Redgrave Gives Students a Bard Time : Drama: Actress visits high school English classes 'to get a little energy going' about Shakespearean plays and her touring one-woman show.

February 18, 1993|GERALD FARIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CERRITOS — Her picture was on the wall of the Gahr High School classroom.

But Lynn Redgrave remained something of a mystery to most of the senior English students awaiting her arrival.

"She was the one who did the Weight Watcher commercials," said one.

Another piped up: "She's Vanessa's sister."

But after Redgrave strode into the room, casually dressed in slacks, blouse and vest, it was not long before the students knew her as an actress raised in England on the plays of William Shakespeare the way American youngsters are raised on cartoons and MTV.

"In a way, Shakespeare is the family business," Redgrave told the class in a strong, theatrical voice well tuned to speak the Bard's verse. "I have the privilege to be the daughter of one of the great, great Shakespearean actors of the 20th Century," she said.

Her father was Sir Michael Redgrave, who died in 1985 after a 50-year stage and film career. An actor named Cornelius Redgrave launched the dynasty in the 1800s, she told the class. Her sister, Vanessa, and brother, Corin, also act. And three nieces--including Natasha Richardson, Vanessa's daughter by the late director Tony Richardson--have become the next generation of acting Redgraves.

Redgrave said she was taken to Shakespeare's plays as a child, and even "King Lear"--a dark tale of vanity, ambition and betrayal--was not considered off-limits.

"There was no age barrier. Shakespeare was treated as someone you should respect in our family, someone who had a magical place," said Redgrave, who made her professional debut in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1962.

And for an hour last Friday, Redgrave tried to weave some of that magic in the classroom.

In an energetic, humorous and sometimes earthy style, Redgrave worked with students on speeches from several plays. She praised them for having the courage to get up in front of classmates as she helped them polish their performances.

She encouraged Michelle Midgley to temper her anger in the scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in which Midgley was playing Juliet, who has just secretly married Romeo and learns that he has killed her cousin, Tybalt.

"You have let one emotion color the entire speech," Redgrave said. She pointed out that Juliet also should be displaying some compassion for Romeo, who is soon to be banished for his deed.

"Take your time and think what it means," Redgrave said. "He's about to be sent to the Arctic. You're never going

to see him again, and you've never slept with him yet."

Some students laughed, prompting Redgrave to say, "Seriously, Juliet has never come to fruition."

She told the class that Shakespeare wrote for all time and for all people.

To make her point, she transported "Romeo and Juliet"--a 400-year-old play in which the lovers come from rival families, the Capulets and the Montagues--to the violent streets of Los Angeles.

"The Capulets and the Montagues were gangs, just like the ones in South-Central," she said.

Redgrave assigned half of the class to play the Capulets--Juliet's family--and the other half to play the Montagues--Romeo's people--as student Greg Adams read a speech that follows a bloody fight between the two clans.

"You Capulets, you want blood for Tybalt's death. . . . Yell at each other," Redgrave urged.

And they did.

Local students are being given tickets to Redgrave's one-woman play, "Shakespeare for My Father," which she will perform Sunday and Monday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. The show, which will tour the United States until early April, is the story of her relationship with her father and includes scenes from several Shakespearean plays.

"I hope to transmit to the audience not only a child's search for a father, but my sheer exhilaration with Shakespeare," she told the class.

Redgrave ended by reciting one of Shakespeare's sonnets--and was besieged by students wanting autographs. Waiting her turn, student Alicia Jasso said, "I never realized I'd find so many things between those lines."

Said Marian Shon: "It was really great. I didn't know what to expect. I've read Shakespeare, but I appreciate him more performed than read."

Redgrave also made similar appearances Friday at Cerritos and Whitney high schools, and plans to visit other schools on her tour.

She said she wants "to get a little energy going" about Shakespeare's works.

"I try to give them a sprinkling of everything, to be entertaining, to wake them up to see that Shakespeare is not dry," she said.

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