Written and Performed by Lynn Redgrave
Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Form
Do you dream of strawberries, scones and clotted cream? Imagine yourself in Edwardian lace, nanny in her starched white uniform upstairs, taking care of the messiness of young children, staff to tidy up the other messes around the house, and cook to prepare bland English food; all of this stress to be relieved by vacations at cottages in the country where, again, others stand by to help? If you do, then Lynne Redgrave’s fictionalized biographical treacle, Nightingale, on stage at the Mark Taper, is just the thing for you.
Not that Mildred, the character she creates to represent someone like her deceased grandmother, is sweet. No, not at all, however her grandmother lived in that world. She was, by all accounts, a cool and distant person. – which is the sum total of what Ms. Redgrave remembers about her real granny. Most of that memory is composed of “Chinese secrets,” the snippets of recollection she has heard from her mother.
Redgrave created this fictionalized biography (giving her grandmother the name “Mildred”) at a particularly upsetting moment in her own life. She had just come through the breakup of her long standing marriage, a breakup that had prompted many pages of tabloid print. Feeling vulnerable she had returned to England to be with her mother and sisters for comfort. Early one morning she went for a walk and saw the church yard where she knew her grandparents were buried. Wandering in she was dismayed to find that all the names on the grave markers had been obliterated by acid rain. Redgrave began to muse that unless one had done something notable one is obliterated from memory, lost for all time, It is the kind of thought that can occur after recognizing one’s own mortality.
So we have Mildred, the fictional persona Redgrave has constructed in this one woman show to keep some trace of her grandmother alive. Mildred is upper class and acutely aware of that. She is the kind of woman who grew up listening to “The Children’s Hour” in the nursery, has not a clue what is happening when she begins what her mother calls “the curse,” and does not realize what is to happen on her wedding night. “Not even my father has seen me in my nightgown” she frets as she prepares to get into her trousseau robe and gown, worrying about the possibility the Kimono will get wrinkled unless she takes it off before going to sleep. When, at last, she delivers her second child, a boy, she is relieved. This is the end of having to do her “duty.”
There is more; but unless hearing Ms. Redgrave’s beautiful diction, imagining, in some detail, the empty life of a “lady,” and looking at Tobin Ost’s soothing set is your idea of theater there are probably more stimulating ways to spend an evening. How much interest would this person hold for us if she were not the primogenitor of an illustrious line of very talented actors? There is certainly validity to the observation that most of us are forgotten in three generations, and this can be a troubling thought. However, the ultimate question we are left with here is: why should we care about Mildred?