Family ties are powerful, and when the folks are as famous and as accomplished as the Redgrave clan, these bindings must be industrial strength indeed.
No wonder Lynn Redgrave wanted to take a look at the life of Beatrice Kempson, her maternal grandmother, a woman she barely knew and wanted to know better. But to fill in the blanks required a leap of her imagination as well.
The result is "Nightingale," an artful blend of fact and fiction in which Redgrave paints a strikingly theatrical portrait of a proper, sometimes severely so, Englishwoman of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Redgrave, a cancer survivor, sits at a desk in this Manhattan Theatre Club production now on view at City Center Stage I and works from a script because of what has been described as an unspecified medical ailment _ but not a recurrence of cancer _ requiring immediate treatment. It doesn't affect her touching, beautifully realized performance.
And reading gives the evening an almost storybook quality in which it seems as if the actress, buoyed by a radiant smile, has gathered a few good friends to hear her reminisce about this formidable woman _ mother of Rachel, mother-in-law of Michael and grandmother to Lynn, Vanessa and Corin.
Under Joseph Hardy's unobtrusive direction, Redgrave traces Beatrice's life in a straightforward manner, from her unhappy, naive teenage years to her equally unhappy and unfulfilled marriage _ a union that did, however, produce three children. Of the three, Beatrice favored the youngest, Robin, and her adoration of him forms the most emotionally compelling part of the story.
There are some fanciful diversions, most notably Beatrice's almost affair with a sexually attractive farmer. Then there's her cranky, almost quarrelsome relationship with Rachel, whose stage successes only seem to make Beatrice even more disgruntled.
In-between, bits and pieces of Redgrave's own life are revealed: brief mentions of her own unhappy marriage as well as her show-biz career that included Broadway hits such as "Black Comedy" and films such as "Georgy Girl."
These snippets stir hopes that another autobiographical effort may be in the works. Redgrave already has given us others, including "Shakespeare for My Father," a look at her relationship with her illustrious knighted parent. Now she needs to concentrate on herself.
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