A creative and complex drama from Aurora Theatre explores how parent/child relationships invade and influence the present.
Kate Kerrigan’s portrayal of fathers’ effect on their children’s adult relationships is ingeniously presented and staged by the Berkeley theater company in Father/Daughter, winner of the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.
We watch two sets of couples each meet their partner and observe how each pair’s rapport matures and flourishes. What links the four is that when Baldwin, age 30, meets Risa, he has a young daughter, Miranda, age 7. And 23 years later, we see Miranda, now 30, with Louis, her new lover.
At first, it isn’t easy to keep the two pairs straight in our minds since each actor plays two parts, and the scenes alternate between the twosomes. But as we watch their histories unfold and become familiar with the actors’ subtle adjustments to each role, it becomes easy to tell which couple we are observing. Both of the talented actors, William Thomas Hodgson, as Baldwin/Louis, and Sam Jackson, as Miranda/Risa, have mastered their multifaceted and challenging roles. Their acting seems effortless and genuine, with touches of love and lightness, as well as dislike and darkness.
We meet the older duo of Baldwin and Risa first. Baldwin is an emotionally distant science teacher whose unfortunate nuclear family life makes meaningful adult relationships difficult. He has a tenuous bond with his daughter Miranda, who lives with her mother post-divorce.
Without his own father as a positive role model, and considering the distance between Baldwin and Miranda, Baldwin feels like he is an “imposter,” a fraud of a father. On the other hand, Risa constantly questions and pushes Baldwin to seek the closeness she wants and Miranda needs, but he seems unable to provide.
Years later, the adult Miranda meets Louis, and the cycle is reversed. Warm-hearted Louis is the beseecher, and Miranda is more diffident, like her father. How the two work through their dissimilarities is one of the more rewarding aspects of Father/Daughter.
Father/Daughter twists the parent/child bond in several directions during the production. One intriguing idea implied by playwright Kerrigan is that Miranda’s maturation and happiness with Louis may enable her to find healthier connections with her father. How wonderful it is to see the potential for positive growth and change.
Author Kait Kerrigan’s use of natural, fluid dialogue made the acting come alive. M. Graham Smith’s direction and Natalie Greene’s intimacy/movement direction added to the evening’s performance. The clever set and staging (Kate Boyd) and subtle costume changes that signal a transformation by the actors to a different role (Courtney Flores) enhance the production.
It was a pleasure to be back at Aurora’s intimate 150-seat auditorium, where seating on three sides of the deep-thrust stage enables every audience member to be no further than 15 feet away from the performance.
Live performances at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre run through Dec. 12. Streamed performances are available from Dec. 7-12. Father/Daughter is one hour, 45 minutes long, with no intermission. Proof of vaccination and wearing a mask are required. Tickets are $20-$78. For information and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre website.
Longtime East Bay resident Emily S. Mendel has been Berkeleyside’s freelance theater and art critic since 2012.