KPBS AIRDATE: August 10, 2001
A father dies. A son returns home to clean up the personal effects and close up the family house. But the memories keep coming, flooding his mind with the small and seminal events of his life — his childhood friend, his first fumbling attempt with the opposite sex, his first job and boss. But mostly, his father, whom he called Da, a stubborn, smothering, controlling yet self-effacing gardener in rural Ireland.
This is the simple premise of “Da,” Hugh Leonard’s 1973 bittersweet memory play — a bit of “Glass Menagerie” mixed with “Dancing at Lughnasa.” A boy moves away from his background, but only geographically. Frankly autobiographical — the son is even a playwright — the piece is far less poetic than the other two memory plays, but still warm and touching. Charlie has gone off to London and become worldly, even supercilious; his parents and his past seem so provincial. But they just won’t let go of him, won’t go away — especially his tenacious. badgering Da, who comes back from the grave to taunt him anew. In several clever scenes, Charlie confronts his younger self, a naif who often puts him in his place.
Richard Seer, who heads the Globe/USD MFA program, directs with a confident, loving hand. As with his last directorial effort, the magnificent “Old Wicked Songs”, he has a history with the play. He himself portrayed the younger son in the original Broadway production. And he taught the former student who now assumes the role. Jim Parsons is thoroughly engaging as Charlie Then, who’s not too impressed with Charlie Now, who’s solidly played by Joel Anderson. As his lifetime of mental snapshots whizzes past, cameo roles come alive in the capable hands of James Winker, Ron Choularton and another Globe/USD graduate, Tami Mansfield.
Although it’s Da’s show by title, it’s Robin Pearson Rose who stands tallest, as the no-nonsense, regretful Ma who never quite adapted to her foster son and never quite got her due. Jonathan McMurty’s Da, an annoying by endearing fellow, is best in the lighter moments, and at the end of his life when he’s losing his mind. As with his other recent foray into Irish fatherhood — the gut-wrenching “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — McMurtry doesn’t quite command the stage like his predecessors in these formidable roles. In both cases, he seems somehow to defer to his wife, who, by default and sheer skill, assumes heroic proportions and steals the show — with a less flashy, more searing performance.
The set, lighting and costumes are aptly dowdy and evocative. All told, it’s a lovely, sentimental production. There’s a memory here for everyone — or a foreshadowing of things to come.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.