Underneath a starry sky in the Santa Ynez Valley, a piece of theater history unfolded last week at the Midland School amphitheater. Lynn Redgrave, daughter of Sir Michael Redgrave, sister of Vanessa Redgrave, and aunt of Miranda and Natasha Richardson, had just died; Miranda Poett, a senior at Midland School, brought her to life again in a performance of Redgrave’s one-woman show about her relationship with her father and their lives in, around, and on the Shakespearean stage. For 75 minutes, Poett told Redgrave’s stories about her childhood, performed favorite scenes from King Lear, Hamlet, Richard II, and many other Shakespeare plays, and described Redgrave’s challenging relationship with her sometimes distant, sometimes affectionate father. Overall, her performance was an extraordinary achievement. As she told the audience later, she was not only the cast, but the crew and the director as well—she had chosen the play, created the set and costumes, blocked the scenes, and most importantly, given the text a clear, interesting interpretation.
Poett arrived onstage in much the same way that an actor in a traveling theater would—with a suitcase, a hat, a coat, and a sense of style. Bit by bit, Poett (as Redgrave) revealed the depth of her anxieties about pleasing her father, her long and tentative road toward a life in the theater, with each moment of triumph emerging from a forest of worries and setbacks, and juxtaposed these elements—without an overt explanation—with a short excerpt from a Shakespeare play. By leaving the connection between Redgrave’s life and the Shakespeare excerpts implicit, Redgrave gave Poett ample room to link them through her performance, and this actress rose to the challenge. Already wrenching stories about Michael Redgrave’s deterioration due to Parkinson’s disease, when followed by Cordelia weeping for her father, King Lear, or Richard II’s painful abdication speech, became all the more moving and significant. Poett led the way from one time to the next—a childhood memory of home, a phone call to her father about her first stage role, weeping with happiness at her wedding—by subtly shifting her voice and expression, so that the meaning of each scene came through without a trace of strain, completing the illusion that Redgrave was actually there, remembering. We’ll remember Lynn Redgrave, and Miranda Poett’s performance of her play, for a long time.