Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

I Never Sang for My Father
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Godspell and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play


Tom Koelbel and Charles Sowder
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Robert Anderson's I Never Sang for My Father expertly portrays how family dynamics, and the relationships between parents and children, can cause both love and hate. The drama focuses on one son's lifelong need for the approval and love of his father and the emotional toll that takes when his father is a selfish, emotionless man. It's a simple play with a minimal plot, but Anderson's realistic characters and dialogue plus Theatre Artists Studio's superb cast result in an exceptional production that simmers and crackles until it ultimately explodes with raw emotion.

The plot focuses on the recently widowed Gene Garrison and his parents Tom and Margaret, who have just returned to their Westchester County, New York, home after spending the winter in Florida. Gene has fallen in love with a woman in California and wishes to marry her and move across country in order to get a fresh start. His father tells Gene that moving would kill his mother, adding that Gene is his mother's whole life. Margaret, on the other hand, urges Gene to go to California. When his mother dies, Gene is torn between feeling conflicted with guilt and the obligation of doing the right thing, with the desire, for once, to put his own life first.

Anderson interweaves into his drama, which originally premiered in 1968, various universal themes that are identifiable for any child who has suffered the consequences that result from the strain, guilt, and emotional pull of overbearing or overly emotional parents. His situations and dialogue so perfectly portray how family dynamics can shift and change yet somehow the need for a child to gain their parent's approval never falters.

Director Steven Fajardo does a beautiful job in instilling the entire production with a 1960s period sensibility and also a timeliness that makes the characters and situations timeless. The cast is exceptional. Tom Koelbel portrays the deeply devoted son perfectly. His quiet demeanor says one thing, while his pained facial expressions and quiet shaking of his head demonstrate Gene's true feelings and the frustration and anguish he feels. Charles Sowder is riveting as Tom. Gene states that his father was once distinguished and remarkable but is now just a nuisance and Sowder is incredibly believable as the man who once excelled in business but now is just a raging, outspoken, cantankerous dying man who clings to his independence while belittling and browbeating his son. Both Koelbel and Sowder create nuanced, layered and complex characters. The fact that Koelbel towers over the much smaller framed Sowder is an ironic touch that only adds to the imagery of children, no matter their size, who are unable to speak their minds and stand up to their overwhelming and outspoken parents.

Judy Lebeau is appropriately sweet and compassionate as Margaret, the deeply devoted mother who has found a way to live a life with her sufferable husband. As Tom and Margaret's daughter Alice, who was basically disinherited by Tom for marrying a Jew, Carol Gibson beautifully infuses the play with a realistic voice of reason. Anderson gives Margaret and Alice several poignant observations, which Lebeau and Gibson deliver very well.

Fajardo directs his cast quite well, with the parent and children scenes as well as the dialogue between siblings feeling incredibly realistic. He stages the action on a fairly minimal set with blank walls and just a few pieces of furniture that steer the focus of the play onto the characters and dialogue. Stacey Walston's lighting is used beautifully to focus our attention and highlight the many narrative scenes effectively.

I Never Sang for My Father is a play that is packed with wisdom and beautifully portrays the heartbreaking, ugly truths that children discover as their parents age; they feel responsible for their parents' wellbeing but also conflicted by the need to live their own lives. Theatre Artists Studio's production has expert direction and a sensational cast who excel in delivering Anderson's painfully realistic and unsentimental dialogue and creating natural performances infused with emotion that pack a punch.

I Never Sang for My Father, through May 13th, 2018, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120.

Director: Steven Fajardo
Props: Judy Lebeau, Dolores Goldsmith
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Costume Design: Mamey Austin

Cast:
Gene Garrison: Tom Koelbel
Tom Garrison: Charles Sowder
Margaret Garrison: Judy Lebeau
Alice: Carol Gibson
Porter/Marvin Scott: Al Benneian
Mary/Nurse: Patti Hurtado
Reverend Pell: Bill Mosley
Doctor Mayberry: David Heap


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