“Death ends a life, but not a relationship.”
I jotted down this quote on my program while viewing the Keen Company’s poignant revival of Robert Anderson’s I Never Sang For My Father, starring and with strong performances by Matt Servitto as the middle-aged “dutiful son,” and Keir Dullea and Marsha Mason as his elderly parents.
The quote captures the theme so well that when I later went back and read The New York Times reviews of the current production and the original one from 1968, both critics included the line in their remarks.
I had never seen the play before, but I was enthralled by the beautiful writing. Anderson creates dialog that allows the characters to reveal themselves and their relationships with one another through their verbal interactions. He also displays a real mastery of the sounds of the English language; he had me early on by having one of the characters utter the phrase “frowzy dowagers.” All right, maybe this isn’t the best example of “genuine dialog,” but don’t you just love the assonance?
The storyline itself is a familiar one—a son trying to connect with his self-centered, cold, and possibly abusive, father. Perhaps it was that familiarity that led Clive Barnes, in his review of the original production, to brush off the play as sentimental claptrap. Or perhaps it was because it was the 1960s, a time of experimental avant-gardism, and Anderson’s work was seen as too old fashioned.
Regardless, I’m glad it’s back.
Like "The Glass Menagerie," I Never Sang For My Father is a “memory play.” Matt Servitto plays the central character of Gene, the narrator and the son who is trying to be supportive of his aging and ailing parents while working to rebuild his own life after the death of his wife. Both Marsha Mason and Keir Dullea give rich depth to their portrayals of those parents, the doting mother, Margaret, and the distant and angry father, Tom. When Margaret dies, Gene struggles with how best to help his father without losing himself in the process, all the while hoping against hope for some sort of loving acceptance and validation.
It may sound corny, but I can tell you that there were those in the audience around me who were muttering to themselves and offering advice to Gene as they identified with the situation.
The Keen Company’s self-identified mission is to produce “sincere plays.” In this cynical age, sincerity is not the usual fare for the theatergoing crowd. I tip my hat to both the company and to Jonathan Silverman, its resident director, who has shepherded the production with appropriate restraint so that Anderson’s revealing language and sincerely moving play are allowed their day in the spotlight.
Note: The image at the top is of Keir Dullea in his iconic role of Dave Bowman in Stanley Kurbrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," which came out in 1968, the same year as the original production of "I Never Sang For My Father."
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