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Theater review: 'I Never Sang For My Father' at the McCadden Theatre

April 21, 2011 |  8:00 pm

INeverSang-HallandByrd In another decade or two, Robert Anderson's “I Never Sang for My Father”  may mellow into a quaint period piece set in that long-ago time before the terms "control freaks” and “guilt trippers” were so routinely abused.

However, as soon becomes apparent in the New American Theatre’s (formerly Circus Theatricals) production at the McCadden Theatre, the decades have not been kind to Anderson's late-1960s play, which was made into a 1970 film starring Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman.  In retrospect, Anderson's insights about an autocratic father –- a guilt tripper and control freak of the first order -– seem a tad obtuse, at least by any contemporary standards.

Yet there are strong arguments for seeing this production, the chief being Philip Baker Hall as Tom Garrison, the dictatorial dad who exerts absolute authority over his family, particularly his adult son, Gene (John Sloan).  Hall's unflinching performance is simply spectacular, a portrait of a declawed lion in deep winter whose sole remaining weapons are manipulative slyness and a resonant roar.

Anne Gee Byrd is also magnificent as Tom's ailing wife, Margaret, a sensitive soul who unfairly relies on Gene to fulfill her emotional needs.  Dee Ann Newkirk is also fine as Alice, the estranged daughter who has been driven from Tom's family pride for the “sin” of marrying a Jew.  As for Sloan, he's a refreshingly naturalistic actor, although his performance sometimes simmers when it should roil.

One of our finest contemporary directors, Cameron Watson tunes up this somewhat creaky vehicle to brisk running order but cannot ultimately outrun the limitations of his psychologically simplistic material. 

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“I Never Sang for My Father,” McCadden Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  (No performance Easter Sunday.) Ends May 22.  $25.  (310) 701-0788. NewAmericanTheatre.com. Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: Anne Gee Byrd, Philip Baker Hall.  Credit Daniel G. Lam.

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