Theatre Artists Studio revives obscure classicon father-son conflict
April 2, 2018
By Kenneth LaFave
I Never Sang for My Father may be the most famous play you’ve never heard of. But now, thanks to an independent group of Scottsdale theater professionals you’ve also probably never heard of, you’re hearing about it.
The classic drama is being produced by Theatre Artists Studio, a collective of actors, directors, designers and playwrights whose self-proclaimed mission is to produce plays that might otherwise escape the public’s attention.
“We’re a member-driven organization that works on our craft in a collaborative way. It’s also part of our goal to present plays that are not part of the mainstream,” said Steven Fajardo, the production’s director.
I Never Sang for My Father was once very much a part of the mainstream. In 1968, when “well-made” plays were still the ticket, and so-called “kitchen-sink” drama that pitted family member against family member thrived, Robert Anderson’s play got an award-winning Broadway production that went on to become a motion picture starring the young Gene Hackman. As tastes changed, however, the play fell by the wayside. In an article about a 2004 revival of the piece, Variety called it “a hoary old play that doesn’t get much respect these days.”
Fajardo would like to see that change.
“It’s a very widely studied script. The subject of conflicts and relationship differences resonates with many people,” Fajardo said.
And yet, productions are few and far between, so much so that Theatre Artists Studio’s production is the first ever in the Valley in anyone’s memory, and almost certainly the first local staging since the play made its initial round of local productions circa 1970.
“Each year we go through a selection process where we determine which plays to produce the following season. This was one of the plays submitted for consideration last year, and when we looked at it, we realized that it’s both a classic in the theater community, and barely known to the general public,” Fajardo said.
The problem may be the script’s old-fashioned language and approach. Playwright Anderson was called “the dramatist of loneliness” in his heyday of the 1950s and 1960s. I Never Sang for My Father focuses on the troubled relationship of a son and his father, a situation that is still today, as ever, relevant. But the details may seem remote and unlikely, such as when the father throws his daughter out of the house for marrying a Jewish man.
The broader themes of familial love and alienation overcome such cultural anachronisms, Fajardo said. The son in the play is always trying to get his father’s love but never succeeding – what more powerfully present theme could there be?
“Here is a father who is distant and over-achieving, and a mother who’s trying to do the best she can. One character in the play has a dementia-related condition. Those things still ring true,” Fajardo observed.
The cast features Theatre Artists Studio members Tom Koelbel, Judy Lebeau, Carol Gibson, Al Benneian, Patti Hurtado, William Mosely, and David Heap, along with guest artist Charles Sowder.