Kathleen Chalfant does a reading of Lynn Redgrave’s ‘Shakespeare for my Father’

Correction: The print edition of the article in this weekend’s Arts section, which was printed in advance, gives an incorrect phone number for the Folger Theatre. The correct number is 202-544-7077.


Lynn Redgrave in "Shakespeare for My Father" at Folger Theatre, 1991. (Julie Ainsworth)
November 8, 2013

Actress Kathleen Chalfant, 68, didn’t meet Lynn Redgrave, actress, playwright and original performer of the autobiographical work “Shakespeare for my Father,” until they were both adults. Redgrave, who died from breast cancer in 2010, was the youngest child in a theater family — her father, Michael, was so legendary in his native England that he was knighted for his work; her older sister, Vanessa, has won or been nominated for almost every major acting award. Redgrave struggled to consider herself worthy of the spotlight that the rest of her family enjoyed. By the time Chalfant met Redgrave, the latter was “a beautiful and accomplished woman,” said Chalfant, not the awkward adolescent described in the play. But Chalfant, a Tony-
nominated and Obie and Drama Desk award-winning actress, is discovering her late friend anew for a reading of “Shakespeare” at the Folger Theatre. Chalfant spoke by phone about the tension between Lynn and her father, and how Redgrave’s family made her think about her own.

Rise and shine

“I read it every morning. I read it to myself, and as we get closer . . . I’ll start reading it out loud… Being able to say all this Shakespeare, it’s just glorious. And that’s the other thing about reading it every morning: Shakespeare becomes familiar. Every time you read it, you say: oh, I get it.”

Son (and daughters) of Anarchy

“The first thing [I found in the script] was the kind of deep pathos in her relationship with her father and how complicated it was and how astoundingly honest she was about it. Because it was clearly a very painful relationship. . . . Lynn was a third child and came in at the height of Michael Redgrave’s success as an actor. So in just a practical way, he wasn’t home very much. And I think that he and Lynn shared a rather harsh view of Lynn’s gift that was wrong. Lynn was wrong about herself. She always underestimated herself. And she says in the play that her father did the same thing, that Vanessa was clearly the shining star in the family and that Corin was a son and himself a great and important actor, and so Lynn was always the third person.”

Sins of the father

“I think that Michael Redgrave seems not to have been a very approachable person. Like many actors, he was most real when he was being someone else. And Lynn talks about that, about her fantasy as an 8-year-old about being able to leap down onto the stage and find her father while he was playing Richard II. Both for Michael and for Lynn, I think, he was more real as an actor, and that only lasts for two or three hours at a time.”

Kids these days

“My husband and I have two children and now three grandchildren. . . . Working on this play makes me think a lot about my shortcomings as a parent, what it means to be an actor and a parent, the way in which — particularly in plays, because you make new families every time you work on a play — and for the time that you’re in the play . . . the new family that you’ve made is much more vivid and present than the family that is your family.”


Head shot of Kathleen Chalfant. (Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)
I volunteer as tribute

“I think of [the readings] as tributes to Lynn as Lynn. And also celebrations of her as a writer, because she was quite a gifted playwright.”

Work in progress

“I think the most moving thread through the play is the growth, very slowly, and by tiny increments, of Lynn’s relationship with her father. So that by the end, they have, in some way or another, found each other. In a very fragile and delicate way.”

Shakespeare for my Father

Monday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.,
201 E. Capitol Street SE, www.folger.edu, 202-544-7077.

An earlier version of this story had the wrong phone number for Folger.

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