I Remember Mama
From left: Judi Farr, (?), Linda Horne, Lexia Wilson or Debbie Heaton, Wendy
Luckett, Edward (Ted) Lansdowne
||(alternating) Lexia Wilson, Debbie Gray Heaton
||John V. Trevor
||Carol Vincent Smythe
||(alternating) Nicholas Notley, Hilary Carter
|Madeline, a school girl
||Anne Marie Termytelen
|Florence Dana Moorehead
What the critics said:
Schmaltz but its good stuff
ENTER snearing at your peril. That's the first thing to be said about I Remember Mama because you may well exit sniffling.
And you'll feel even more of a clown if you've been holding forth about how only a war-torn world could have welcomed such ridiculously sentimental escapist fare.
And it's very easy to approach John Van Druten's 1944 offering in just that spirit.
On paper it's enough to bring a curl to the lip of the most tolerant observer . . . hyper-happy family life featuring a line-up of impeccably virtuous offspring involved in a series of heart-rending dramas (dying cat, ailing toddler, that sort of thing).
And it's all presided over by that invincible personification of goodness, kindness, humor and resourcefulness, the incredible Mama.
Eyewash, you think? Impossible to get away with it in cynical '73?
Well, my advice is to go along to the Independent and see. I really think you'll find the warmth and charm of this undeniably saccharine saga will creep up on you and hold you fast in its treacle grasp.
And if the play itself didn't guarantee your capture, there is no way even the mast hardened cynic could resist Judi Farr's really magnificent performance as Mama, a beautifully sustained piece of work that is a perfect combination of the gentleness, strength and wry humor that make even the head of the struggling' family such a great character.
Remember Mama? Miss Farr's performance renders her unforgettable.
There are irritations of course. It's an awfully rambling play, with a never-ending series of short scenes - many of which could be utterly excised without any loss at all.
And the Independent's production tends at times to make heavy weather of getting through the little scene changers that should move so swiftly on and off.
Maybe spotlights here and there would have done the trick for the little interlude scenes, maybe multi-levels on stage.
Whatever the solution, the Independent's facilities here didn't provide what was needed to speed through the dross scenes that dragged on with forgettable characters lumbering to and fro across the front of the stage
Luckily there is such a deal of strength in the central family scenes that one's irritation vanishes once Mama, in particular, and the gang reappear.
Backing up Miss Farr's Mama rather well are wide-eyed Linda Horne as "the romantic one", Katrin, also the narrator, Edward Lansdowne as the always
unobtrusive Papa, Savior Sammut blustering adequately as Uncle Chris arid a delightfully daffy neurotic Eileen Driver as Aunt Trina.
... SUSIE EINSENHUTH
Tender Memories of Mama
Independent Theatre: I Remember Mama
Reviewed by NORMAN RUSSELL
The heart-tugging warmth and sentimental charm of I Remember Mama is affectionately recaptured in Doris Fitton's new production at the Independent Theatre.
This is due mainly to Judi Farr, who positively personifies the gentle strength of the Norwegian heroine of Kathryn Forbes' book on which John Van Druten's play is based.
She gives yet another sterling performance in which every inflection, expression and gesture is charged with sympathetic meaning and understanding.
This multi-scened play's logistics are as well handled as possible with the theatre's limited facilities, but concentration does tend to flag in some of the inevitable between scene waits.
However, such is the appeal of Judi Farr's portrayal that, each time involvement is quickly restored.
Her children are well played by Linda Horne, excellent as the eldest daughter, Katrin, who is also the narrator; Wendy Luckett as Christine; Danny Forrester as Nels and Debbie Gay Heaton alternating with Lexia Wilson as Dagmar.
Of the others, Saviour Sammut bellows and blusters effectively as Uncle Chris; Edward Lansdowne is appropriately self-effacing as Papa and John V. Trevor correctly hammy as the ex-actor boarder.
A really touching performance comes from Eileen Driver as the retiring Aunt Trina contrasting effectively with the arrogance of Kay Eklund and Ivy Johnson as the other two aunts.
A PLAY OF INNOCENCE
Certainly the most innocent and live entertainment in Sydney at the presentmoment would be the Independent Theatre's "I Remember Mama" directed by Doris Fitton, which opened on Wednesday.
You might go ready to smile at the old-fashioned naivety of close-knit migrant family life in America in the early years of this century, but the smiles would be with, and not at, the quaintnesses of the Hanson family and their homespun Norwegian habits.
The play is hardy and unpolluted and therefore refreshing and particularly suited, in this unpretentious production, for receptive children.
It is a mild evening, not by virtue of the play, which is a masterpiece of dramatic continuity and charm, but because the general level of achievement, while full of willing effort, is often modest.
The cast of John Van Druten's many characters were none of them, here, a pure joy to watch, but they acted their parts sympathetically, in a spirit of well-disciplined teamwork. and with excellent diction.
Judi Farr played with authority and the necessary aura of maternal wisdom, and Edward Lansdowne was a relaxed and solid Papa. Linda Horne as the romantic Katrin, Danny Forrester as the sturdy Nils, Wendy Luckett as the down-to-earth Christine and Saviour Sammut as roaring Uncle Chris were the most successfuly, natural members of the family.
John V. Trevor was happily cast as the histrionic Mr. Hyde.
Two aspects of Yoshi Tosas otherwise cosy kitchen set were somewhat inadequate; the unconvincing backdrop beyonfd the door and the later period gas stove which was a dead area throughout the otherwise warmly busy play.
... Romola Costantino.
"In Review" P18, The Australian, Saturday April 28th 1973
Revivals of two plays in Sydney one from the '40s, one from the '50s.
Both are chiefly interesting for the new perspective which the passing of years gives to the time from which they came.
At the Independent Theatre, Doris Fitton has directed a kind of Goldilocks and the Three Bears production of John Van Druten's sentimental comedy, I Remember Mama. The play was commissioned by Rogers and Hammerstein who liked Kathryn Forbes's short stories, Mama's Bank Account, and the work has all, the efficiency and conscious wholesomeness of a good play doctor's talents (sic).
I Remember Mama, Is the story of the Hanson family, emigrants from Norway to San Francisco, where they live in contented poverty. Mama and Papa Hanson have four children; their eldest daughter Katrin is a would-be writer who in the course of the play learns that sincerity is the way to success and gives up writing about princes and painters in favor of her all-pervasive Mama. She is the play's narrator.
They also have a stormy Uncle Chris and Mama's three ugly sisters, all of whom serve in their way to point up the embracing human qualities of Mama, her resourcefulness in seeking her family's happiness and her resolute belief that the best things in life are free. The play is straight narrative: it demonstrates in a dozen or more scenes the kind of life this family led around 1910 and seeks nothing more ambitious than to demonstrate that Dickensian family life is wonderful. The play is full of references to Dickens and a comparison is implied. But whereas Dickens dreamy firesides are firmly placed in a stubbornly realistic world; and his sentimentality is rescued by his lively capture of the grotesque Van Druten's Hanson family are pure products of that wouldn't-it-be wonderful-if world which made Hollywood and Broadway in the '30s and '40s the meccas of family entertainment.
Offered as a new script today I Remember Mama would be laughed off every entrepreneur's table for its rambling structure and its two-dimensional characters. Coming as it does from the early '40s it now offers a perspective on that period which is highly attractive: it recalls that age of innocence which, now that it is no longer a threat to our under standing of the real world, has a growing appeal for its style and charm.
This production is chiefly worth seeing for a really stunning performance by Judi Farr as Mama - gentle, humorous, her lines placed with immaculate care, she makes Mama everything we would wish her to be.
The large cast, mostly drawn from graduates of the Independent school are varyingly successful. Miss Farr is nicely supported by Edward Landsdowne as Papa and John V. Trevor as the mellifluous lodger Mr Hyde and some promising performances include Linda Horne as Katrin, Eileen Driver and Kay Eklund as Aunts Trina and Jenny, Saviour Sammut as Uncle Chris and Albert Goldingay as Trina's undertaker husband.
'Mama' A Heart Warmer
In our rather corrosive and satirical society, so often reflected in present day theatre, it's a refreshing change to be able to sit back and enjoy a classic piece of theatre that's so enriched with life's true values and the warm, deep bonds of family.
John van Druten's I Remember Mama, which opened at the Independent Theatre last Wednesday night for a four-week season, is a fine example of how the short story can be so flexibly transferred to the theatre form without losing its intrinsic appeal and charm.
Taken from short stories by Kathryn Forbes, collectively titled Mama's Bank Account, it was written and adapted for the stage by John van Druten - at the suggestion of the Rodgers and Hammerstein families - and first produced (after tryouts) in New York in 1944, by that famous team.
It was an instant success, and it was quite obvious at the Independent last week that its special homespun quality and charm has not worn thin.
This delightful comedy (which often brings one as close to tears as to laughter) has a quality that is timeless, the true criteria for good theatre.
And Doris Fitton's production has retained all the softness and glow that makes it such an endearing play, a real heart warmer.
I Remember Mama is the story of a, family of Norwegian immigrants who have settled in San Francisco. Set in 1910, it's seen through the eyes of their eldest daughter, the teenaged Katrin, on the threshold of Womanhood and with a burning ambition to be a writer.
The central figure of the family is Mama, a heroic character if ever there was one, but not heroic in the dramatic sense or laden with maudlin sentiment.
She is the symbol of family unity and survival leading them on with her practical tenacity, quite indomitable in her quiet generous way.
FLASHES OF HUMOUR
Mama, the straight and honest one, with those quick flashes of humour. is by the same token just as equally convinced that a little bit of "conning" is necessary at times, even justified.
It's Mama who chloroforms the cat to put it out of its misery and unwittingly succeeds in curing it; Mama who hoodwinks the nursing staff at the hospital because of a dogged determination to see her sick little girl; Mama who threatens to expose "tales" of her two sisters if they ridicule Trina, who wants to marry the undertaker.
And, of course, its Mama who keeps the family sheltered in security with that legendary bank account, ever resourceful, ever inventive when it strikes at family needs.
The play is special, too, in the warm lifelike portraits of the characters that weave through the familys life, a family that has brifged the old world with the new, leaving its roots behind, but still holding precariously to its old traditions.
Mama and Papa Hanson, the three Aunts, Trina, Jenny and Sigrid, the truculent, bombastic "black" Uncle Chris, with the heart of gold, are all symbolic of that old world. All were born and lived in Norway, though the four Hanson children, Nels, Katrin, Christine and Dagmar, were all born in the States.
The custom of a dowry, a quaint turn of phrase, that semi reliance on Uncle Chris as the "head" of the family, those lilting Norwegian accents, are all a reminder of that old world.
Judy Farr as Mama is quite superb. She never falters for a moment with that so convincing accent, and she is in every sense the epitome of Mama, spilling over that warmth and delight in the simple joys of family life, finding an answer in a crisis, always overcoming the family's greatest need - money.
Yet in retaining that strength and dignity especially when she speaks of her dead first born, and in her final revelation about that bank account. she underplays the emotions so skilfully that she can even wring a tear from our eyes.
Linda Horne as the young Katrin also gives a very strong performance, playing it easily, naturally, sympathetically, without tricks or artifice, so very typical of the young girl caught up in those green years and those dreams, yearning a little for the material things others have, yet prompted by values to make a personal sacrifice.
With her sudden (and humorous) literary inspirations she's very much the child woman, and through her eyes we see family crises, even death, as part of the tapestry of life.
As the gentle, loyal Papa, Edward Lansdowne gave a most convincing and plausible performance, equally sustaining that accent throughout.
Although he must stand a little in the background, we are ever conscious of his presence, the wise and witty words, that touching moment when he gives Katrin her first cup of coffee (a symbol she's really grown up), the deliberate, practical observations, his constant belief that Mama is always right.
Xaviour Sammut provided plenty of character colour as the somewhat awesome Uncle Chris, who frightened the children and the Aunts with his booming voice and sudden outbursts.
Noteworthy performances, too, came from John V. Trevor as Mr. Hyde, the confidence man who introduces the family to literature and flits off without paying the rent. In his short appearances, he manages to convince us of the histrionic prowess of this high-flying identity.
Danny Forrester as Nels, the eldest Hanson, gave a sincere if not a formidable performance, perhaps a little too hesitant and shy at times.
Kay Eklund and Ivy Johnson handled their roles of the two rather dislikeable aunts competently, though accents strayed a little at times, and Eileen Driver coped particularly well with her Aunt Trina, the rather downtrodden spinster who plans to wed.
Special mention must be made, too, of little Wendy Luckett, who played Christine Hanson with such refreshing naturalness.
The simplicity and moving power of I Remember Mama, with its nostalgic charm and quaint, unexpected flashes of humour, is not only a play that is enjoyable entertainment.
It looks at life and its sometimes forgotten values, wrapping around it like a blanket of warmth making it very real, human and quite memorable.
Yoshi Tosa's set designs are, as usual, most effective.
This is a production you should not miss. As Mama says: "Tis goot
." Yes tis very good indeed.
Yes, tis very good indeed.
- Winsome 0Gorman Hughes
(With thanks to Sharon Loiterton for identifying Ted Lansdowne on the "I Remember Mama" photograph, & the source of the Katherine Brisbane review ... 27th February 2010)