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Theater : Redgrave's Bittersweet Memories of Her 'Father'

October 10, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another quasi-therapeutic play about a parent-child relationship may sound ho-hum. But when the parent is Michael Redgrave, the daughter is Lynn Redgrave, and her solo show is stitched together by their mutual passion for Shakespeare, it becomes something of a special event.

All too special, here in the actress' adopted home town of Los Angeles. Her "Shakespeare for My Father" began in these parts--with a few performances in Santa Barbara, Cerritos and Palm Desert--before becoming a Broadway hit. But when it finally returned over the weekend, it played only three performances at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.

An earlier plan to play the Henry Fonda Theatre for a longer run was thwarted by earthquake damage to the Fonda. The show is now booked into Australia and London, but at least Redgrave found the time to kick off UK/LA's "3 x 3" series at the Freud. Perhaps she'll eventually bring the show back for a longer stay.

This is no fond reminiscence of dear old dad. To hear his daughter talk, Michael was a distant, intimidating father who didn't even take note of her 1943 birth in his journal. However, he later gave her a volume of Shakespeare. In its pages--and in her father's performances--she finally forged an almost spiritual bond with him that was missing in most of their actual encounters.

*

In her script, Redgrave interpolates apt lines from Shakespeare into her personal memories. For example, she sees herself as Cordelia to Michael's Lear.

The classical language and Redgrave's own contemporary lines mingle with ease, and the actress gets to show her stuff in men's roles as well as women's, as both Juliet and her Nurse, as Portia and Cleopatra and even Richard II. She has a commanding voice that easily negotiates several octaves, and she holds a stage without strain. Why hasn't she done Shakespeare in L.A.?

She portrays a wide range of other characters--from Noel Coward to Maggie Smith to Richard Burton to a burly stagehand. She touches briefly and movingly on her mother, Rachel Kempson, particularly in the stressful period when Michael Redgrave had Parkinson's disease (he died in 1985.)

She does a fascinating bit as her own grandmother, Michael's mother, who relates how she treated her young son as a parcel, shuttling him between relatives. Meanwhile, we hear how Michael's father never saw him after he was a baby. Perhaps it's not too surprising that Michael didn't know how to be a parent. Left unsaid, however, is any mention of Michael's oft-reported bisexuality or whether it affected his home life.

A dim image of Michael looks on from the back of the stage--as if from a distance, of course, and we hear brief snippets of his voice. But he's almost as much of a ghost here as Hamlet's father--another analogy noted in the play. Nonetheless, the show is generally light on its feet, with more humor than rancor, capped by a final litany of Lynn's relatively few happy memories. Her husband, John Clark, directed.

* "3 x 3: Great Solo Performances" continues at the Freud Playhouse with Miriam Margolyes in "Dickens' Women," Tuesday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Steven Berkoff in "One Man," Wednesday, Friday, 8 p.m.; Sunday. 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. Tickets $25. (310) 825-2101.

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