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A Sterling Production of "Shakespeare for My Father"

By George Linkletter, The Citizen News


In the theater world, one-actor shows are where the rubber meets the road. There are no places to hide: just the script, the director's interpretation, and the actor's talent.

TheatreWorks New Milford has clearly mastered this simple yet challenging formula with its current production of Shakespeare for My Father, the autobiographical tale and playwriting debut of legendary actress Lynn Redgrave, who recounts her evolving relationship with her even more legendary actor/father, Sir Michael Redgrave.

It's fair to say that just about all children or young adults struggle to some degree in coming to terms with the human side of their parents. And when the parents are hugely successful in business or professional life, the task of winning approval and validation becomes more arduous – especially when the child hopes to follow the career footsteps of the parent.

Shakespeare for My Father, a one-woman's tale of Ms. Redgrave's memories, is a complex, funny and moving portrait of a child's longing for the love, affection and attention of her father – who just happens to be inscrutable, daunting and charismatic Shakespearean actor who was her father.

Ms. Redgrave, the third of three children in the famous acting family, delightfully weaves scenes from the Bard that fuse with events in her young life, eliciting engaging memories of both Sir Michael and the celebrated stars who frequented the Redgrave's homes and lives.

Actress Susan Pettibone is clearly up to the demanding, multi-faceted role created by Lynn Redgrave. (And, it must be pointed out that in Sir Michael's view of the world, there is no higher accolade than the word 'actor.')

Ms. Pettibone realistically and movingly portrays Ms. Redgrave at several stages of her life, illustrating a range of emotions including the insecurity and self-doubt of youth, the determination of a young adult to succeed and win approval, and the sense of impending loss that comes when an aging parent begins to slip away.

She also displays an impressive range as she portrays snippets of more than a dozen other characters, many larger than life, whom Ms. Redgrave encountered in her personal and professional life.

If 'actor' is the pinnacle of being in the theater world, then this play shows that Lynn Redgrave, and Ms. Pettibone, are skilled, knowledgeable and have mastered the craft.

The play's director, Jane Farnol of Gaylordsville, brings an intimate knowledge of Ms. Redgrave that other productions may lack. "We both lived in Kent, we're both English, and she adorned my Mum," Ms. Farnol explained. "I recall a time when Lynn and I went to see Guys and Dolls at New Milford High School. She leaned over to me at one point and said, 'This was Dad's favorite song.' Here we are, mounting the first play Lynn ever wrote, and Susan Pettibone, who does an outstanding job portraying Lynn, speaks of Sir Michael's love of American Musicals in the play. I get goose bumps thinking about it."

To add authenticity to this production, Ms. Redgrave's children supplied vintage photographs of the Redgrave family. The production also features the original chair that Ms. Redgrave used herself on Broadway, along with the original music that was used when her play debuted there in 1993.

In addition to Ms. Farnol and Ms. Pettibone, who both designed the show's simple yet elegant set, the show's crew includes producer and lighting designer Richard Pettibone, sound designer Tom Libonate, and stage manager Sonnie Osborne.

Shakespeare for My Father opened on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre on April 26, 1993. The New York Post called the play "An enormously entertaining biographical voyage."

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