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Personal Insight Allows New Milford’s ‘Shakespeare’ To Shine

By Julie Stern, Newtown Bee


NEW MILFORD — New Milford's Theatreworks is once again ratcheting up the level of intellectual strength it expects from its audiences, by presenting a work that presumes not only some familiarity with Shakespeare, but also an acquaintance with the great theatrical figures of the twentieth century.

Of course it is possible to see, and enjoy, the show without this background, but the real resonance comes from recognizing the lines from Hamlet, Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Richard II, and others, and grasping the thematic connections between the passages quoted, and the dysfunctional dynamics of the Redgrave family.

Originally written and performed by Lynn Redgrave herself, to great success both in America and in London, the play is a memoir, in which the adult daughter looks back on her childhood, dominated by her desire for the love and attention from her father, combined with the rueful awareness that for the most part, he barely noticed her.

Sir Michael Redgrave was an extremely busy and prolific actor, who was recognized as one of the leading interpreters of Shakespeare (along with his sometime friend and rival, Sir Lawrence Olivier). When Lynn, the youngest of his three children, was growing up, much of her contact with her father came from the emotionally charged experience of watching him rehearse and perform various roles.

This led her to focus on Shakespeare with burning intensity, finding in the plots of the dramas, parallels to her own identity, seeing acting as the only viable profession, and developing a precocious appreciation for Shakespearean language itself. All three became avenues by which she hoped to achieve meaningful contact, and win respect from this man she worshipped but who paid her little attention.

As a collection of memories, the play is set in a sort of attic of the mind, cluttered with old costumes, rickety furniture, antique chests, and a dominating portrait of Sir Michael himself. Absent mindedly singing the Feste song from Twelfth Night ("The Wind and the Rain"), the actress portraying Miss Redgrave wanders in and begins reminiscing about her life, sifting through the relics, opening her father's meticulously kept journal to the day of her birth in 1943, only to find him discussing his performance, and his dinner afterward, but with no mention of the arrival of his third child.

Interspersed with renditions of appropriate Shakespearian speeches, she recounts the trajectory of their lives, to the point where, ravaged by Parkinson's, he is forced to give up the career he loves, while she is finally able to make peace and forgive him.

On the New Milford stage this show works beautifully because it has the twin assets of one of the most talented actresses in the TheatreWorks company, Susan Pettibone, as Ms Redgrave, and one of the finest local directors, Jane Farnol. As someone who knew Lynn Redgrave personally, Ms Farnol brings added insight to the production.

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