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[whitespace] Lynn Redgrave Root and Branch Lynn Redgrave remembers a bitter past in 'The Mandrake Root.'

Mother Loads

Mother-daughter relationships loom large in new shows by Rep and SJ Stage

By Heather Zimmerman

THE SAN JOSÉ REPERTORY Theatre presents the California premiere of The Mandrake Root, written by and starring actress Lynn Redgrave. This drama portrays a prestigious British theater family that has done more acting off the stage than on it. Having kept a stiff upper lip throughout a marriage of convenience to a gay producer and a doomed love affair, the great stage actress Rose Randall (Redgrave) faces old age bitterly.

When Rose becomes ill and her daughter, Sally (Cynthia Mace), must care for her, the family's secretive, troubled past comes to something of a resolution. The Randalls' circumstances are not unlike those of Redgrave's family, and her semiautobiographical perspective provides insight into the ways in which institutionalized homophobia can undo an entire family. Much of the play is told in flashbacks, with Redgrave's performance masterfully showing us Rose at ages from 22 to 80.

At times, however, the play flounders, especially when Redgrave the writer gets mired in the elderly Rose's rambling, addled remembrances. Redgrave does turn in an excellent performance. Though Rose suffers as only a grande dame can, Redgrave makes the larger-than-life character real. Mace gamely tackles the underwritten role of Sally, who though capable and sympathetic, never seems to overcome her childhood lessons of repression. Unfortunately, the play draws too heavily on implied symbolism to achieve the emotional honesty it champions. The mandrake root, mentioned in Rose's repeated recitations of a John Donne poem favored by her and her lover, seems a hollow icon, overwrought with ancient meanings of sexuality and power. Donne's poem is meant to be code for the lovers' repressed feelings, but the play's dependence on its symbolism mimics, rather than transcends, the characters' emotional paralysis.

Themes of redemption may figure in The Mandrake Root, but revenge takes center stage in Martin McDonagh's dark comedy/drama The Beauty Queen of Leenane, superbly presented by the San Jose Stage Company. In a remote cottage in rural Ireland, Mag Folan (Linda Hoy) and her daughter, Maureen (Julia Brothers), have stewed in mutual resentment for the 15 years that Maureen has cared for elderly Mag. Maureen feels that life has passed her by as she's looked after the demanding Mag, who for her part jealously guards against any chance Maureen might leave her--a real possibility when a local man, Pato (Randall King), shows romantic interest in Maureen.

Hoy and Brothers appeared in the Stage Company's excellent production of W;t last season, and Beauty Queen reminds us what a tremendous pairing they are. Hoy has adeptly played a number of aged characters, but the vulnerable tyrant Mag is some of her best work yet. Brothers' Maureen rages beneath an easy demeanor. Her nuanced performance neatly reveals a twist that director James Reese springs like a trap. King subtly charms as the in-over-his-head Pato; a monologue in which he reads a heartfelt love letter to Maureen truly is one of most touching romance scenes I've seen. Reese has adeptly found the perfect precarious balance between playing up the humor of McDonagh's often hilarious dialogue and yet never shying from the darkness that unmistakably looms at the heart of the play.

The Mandrake Root plays Tuesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 2 and 7pm, through Feb. 24 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $20-$44. (408.367.7255). The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm, through Feb. 24. Tickets are $16-$34. (408.283.7142)

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From the February 7-13, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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