There's an unusually realistic undercurrent running through the new Laterthanever production of Robert Anderson's I Never Sang For My Father at Center Stage. This play, dedicated to celebrating (or exposing) the difficulties in father/son relationships is, finding the central roles played out by a real-life father and son.
This informs certain moments with an undeniable chemistry and eerie truthfulness that work as a double-edged sword. When the son, Gene (Stephen Moramarco), is forced to endure what is undoubtedly the thousandth retelling of any one of his father Tom's (Fred Moramarco) hundreds of stories, the look of exasperation crossing the character's face is one that must have appeared countless times throughout his own life as the actor's father did much the same thing.
Yet, when Gene must confront his father about his desire to live his own life free of the destructive ties that have bound the two together for decades, the younger Moramarco can't quite marshal up the dramatic forces necessary. The confrontation feels forced, the universal emotion and need for sons to break away not coming through, precisely because of the bond visible throughout between the two Moramarcos. Gene and Tom have a strained relationship throughout, yet Stephen and Fred's comes across as quite strong.
This slightly gimmicky casting aside, the play's meaning otherwise comes through cleanly, with an appropriately nurturing performance given by Louise Gallanda as Gene's mother (with whom Gene shared a much warmer relationship) and a rock-hard performance from Andrea Leigh as Gene's sister, who owes an emotional debt of gratitude to the father who abandoned her, yet gave her the tools she needed to live her life. The divisions between the first act (in which the parents are the parents) and the second act (in which the children are the parents) are distinctly and often movingly depicted.
Despite a few scenes (mostly occurring in the second act) that play very well, this I Never Sang For My Father fails to completely satisfy. Michele Chivu's direction is frequently flimsy and unfocused, tending to reach key dramatic moments circuitously rather than tackle them straight on. Though the play itself is textually compact, the production at times feels bloated and lacking in momentum.
This particularly manifests itself in Stephen Moramarco's performance, which always feels a bit ahead of the game but restrained, as though he wants to go further but can't. He shines, though, when he can devote his energy directly to the audience in Gene's many descriptive asides, and achieves some fine moments throughout, particularly in his understated delivery of the play's final, shattering monologue.
There's much that's touching and relevant in I Never Sang For My Father for those of any age, though, of course, men will find the most to take away as many will have experienced issues with their own fathers similar to those in the play. As a story of family relationships and the obligations and love that bind them together, I Never Sang For My Father succeeds, though a crisper, more intense production would help drive the message even further into the heart.