From our files: An interview with Lynn Redgrave
In 1993, Monitor correspondent Tony Vellela spoke with Lynn Redgrave, the 1960s acting sensation who later dramatized her own troubled past in a one-woman show titled "Shakespeare for My Father." Lynn Redgrave passed away on Sunday.
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"What is this relationship with this man, your father, who is the first man in your life?" she asked herself, recognizing from those initial comments following his death that almost everyone had some part of their lives touched by that most basic relationship.Skip to next paragraph
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"A search for a father is a fairly universal theme, and while this is about a daughter searching for a father, an equal number of men come up to me. You know, I wanted a `Little House on the Prairie' father. People would tell me how he'd been the life and soul of the party, and all I could feel was the most bitter jealousy and anger because that had not been my experience with him at all."
What audiences appreciate about "Shakespeare for My Father" is Redgrave's easy transitions between storytelling about her four-generation theater family, and the various selections she has chosen from the Bard's plays, woven together to sketch out the actress's life and feelings. The play is directed by her husband John Clark and performed on a spare stage with only a large wooden trunk, an armchair, a rug, and a portrait of her father.
Audiences with no more knowledge of Shakespeare than what is commonly taught in high school can readily enjoy the play's full meaning. Although many Americans believe that the English are better versed in Shakespeare, she points out that "they really aren't." And, she adds with a smile, "American audiences listen better."
Between bites of steamed vegetables and rice, she remembers her first trip to the United States, after the opening of "Georgy Girl."
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime giant role for a character actress. I knew there wouldn't be many of them, that I'd be the supporting clown for the rest of my life if I didn't get out of that situation."
People assumed she and the character were the same. So she lost weight, took a job in the play "Black Comedy," and began the process of reinventing herself. She was inspired by the work of British actresses Dorothy Tutin and Peggy Aschroft, as well as Australian Zoe Caldwell, who joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. "And I was a great Jeanne Moreau fan. I saw everything she did."
She does credit her father with giving some of the best advice possible to a young actor when she was starting out: "Work breeds work."
"If you have a choice between a not-so-good part, and no part, take that part, and do something with it. And you never know what it might lead to." And in fact, her initial decision to expand the Folger project into something more substantial testifies to that wisdom.
Redgrave's relationship with her father was strained until just before his death, when she got beyond his personal failings.
"I needed to forgive myself for feeling guilty about the bad thoughts I had about him," she says. "He was what he was, for better or worse, a difficult, tortured man who could be the joy of people's hearts or the nightmare of your life. It was his tragedy that he couldn't talk to me. It really wasn't mine. That was the growth on my part."