Friday, June 01, 2007

"Nightingale" - Lynn Redgrave Stars as Writer/Performer: Her Subject Less So

Watch Lynn Redgrave enact life and times of her fictionalized grandmother for ninety minutes at Hartford Stage and you, too, will be taken in -- to an extent. Known foremost as an actress, Redgrave has carefully honed her script and her rendering is detailed, emotional, and quite admirable.

Her grandmother's name was Beatrice Kempson and the protagonist of the current one-woman piece is named Mildred Asher. Since very little was known of her, Redgrave creates; hence this could not be called non-fiction. The problem is that the woman is not all that captivating, scintillating, or even sympathetic a figure. Redgrave has poured her considerable artistic presence into the play. As the house grows dark, one appreciates the energy, quality, and scope of her work. Mildred, however, is not galvanic.

Her life was unfulfilling. Her physical/sexual relationship with her husband was difficult from the outset and Redgrave's depiction of the wedding night scene is masterful. Redgrave speaks of Mildred's children. Her daughter, Rose, becomes an actress. Her son, Markie, dies during the Second World War. She and her husband, Errol, are anything but a warm, loving couple.

"Nightingale" feels like an on-stage memoir. Redgrave carefully provides specifics and shading. She is a most versatile actress and succeeds as she embodies Mildred during many phases of her life. Tone, rather than dramatic impact, triumphs.


Mildred, inspired by Redgrave's grandmother, was an unhappy woman. She, unfortunately, did not closely connect with those nearest her: husband, children......perhaps she was depressed.

What's inspired about the Stage production, extended until July 1, are the production elements. Rui Rita and Jeff Nellis are splendid with lighting which is often subdued to accurately represent mood. Tobin Ost's set design, while miminal, effectively transports the theatergoer from a cemetery scene to hillside one, for example, in Switzerland.

Joseph Hardy ably directs Redgrave and one must applaud this actress for her precision, commitment, and skill. I cherish Redgrave rather than Mildred.
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