Sunday, October 18, 2009


"Nightingale" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage 1, October 18, 2009

Lynn Redgrave returns to the NY stage in her latest opus, focused on her maternal grandmother, Beatrice Kempson. Under treatment again at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, her performance is that of a recitation from her script. Given the premise, this brings no detraction from the event.

This "alteration" is a bit heavily hammered out with both a program insert, and an appearance by Ms. Redgrave's understudy at the beginning to tell us what we've just read, again.

Ms. Redgrave opens her script with a faux-ominous look, then launches into this meditation she has written, creating a back-story about this grandmother whom she merely tolerated as a teen. Her recurring health issue, combined with the recent loss of her niece and the discovery of the acid-rain-induced erosion of said grandmother's gravestone seem to be the premise for her piece.

Most of the story she writes is a fictionalization, imposing her own preconceptions of "Beanie" as a post-Victorian teen, a frightened and unenlightened bride, an unwilling new mother, a weak-spirited Lady Chatterly wannabe, a dismissive wife, a smothering mother to her favorite. The result is a dour and dark portrait of a sad and self-centered woman trapped in a life she doesn't like and feels unable to change. Her character shifts from Beanie, to her grandfather, to her Aunt Maude are clear and effective.

The vibrant Ms. Redgrave, in her illness, feels a kinship to her, that somehow their lives parallel. Yet, Ms. Redgrave has made many of the choices that her grandmother both couldn't and wouldn't fifty years before. She seems to find catharsis in her endeavor, but much of it didn't play for me. Still, her talent and skill make for a compelling bit of theatre.

No comments: