In the first couple minutes of Nightingale — the one-woman show Lynn Redgrave wrote and stars in — the Oscar-nominated member of the vaunted British acting clan tells the audience: ”No one dies who is remembered.” That’s clearly a theme that obsesses Redgrave, as this latest effort, as well as the other two plays she’s written, concern deceased members of her family. Shakespeare for My Father was about her actor father, Michael Redgrave, while The Mandrake Root was loosely based on her actor mother, Rachel Kempson. Nightingale, meanwhile, is a searching love note to her aloof, dutiful maternal grandmother, Beatrice Hamilton, a woman Redgrave never knew well but still felt compelled to eulogize.
A biographical show that rockets through decades of a life in just about 80 minutes, Nightingale seems like it’d be a good idea, but the plot and story are so meandering that it quickly becomes rather confusing. The account needs to be more incisive, more biting, and better organized. (Plus, in-the-dark viewers might benefit from a copy of the Redgrave family history.) One flaw could be that Redgrave only pieced the narrative together with fragments she learned from her own mother well after the fact. Another is that, as the show’s herky-jerky script makes clear, Redgrave is neither a trained nor particularly strong writer. Where she succeeds, though, is in delivering a refined performance — all while dealing with an undisclosed illness whose treatment requires her to sit behind a desk and read from her script through the performance. Despite the shapeless material, the 66-year-old pro still manages to cast a spell, incite a laugh, and transition deftly between the story’s different characters, even if you don’t always care about them. C
(Tickets: nycitycenter.org or 212.581.1212)