Of the Fields, Lately
A review by Richard Eder
"A Long Flashback"
A painful memory opens and closes "Of the Fields, Lately," a play about the barriers between a son and his father, written by the Canadian playwright David French.
The son recalls making the winning run at a school baseball game, and then refusing to acknowledge the presence of the father out of shame because he was only a carpenter. The memory comes as he is attending his father's funeral; the play is a long flashback and ends with the memory resumed and the son making a gesture of apology.
It's a tired kind of a ribbon to tie a package with; and it doesn't promise much for the freshness of the contents. "Fields," which opened Saturday at the Westchester Regional Theater, is short on originality, its family encounters and clashes are often pat, and yet at times it manages to exceed its promise.
The flashback begins with Ben, the son, coming home from his aunt's funeral. The household of his parents, Jacob and Mary, is growing frail. They are getting old, they are in poor health, and Jacob is only just preparing to go back to work after recovering from a heart attack.
Jacob, Mary and their friends are at the time of life when, as one of them says--and it gives the play its title--"flowers don't smell of the fields, lately, but of the funeral parlor." Ben chums around uncertainly in this household, trying to make friends with his father, who loves him but quarrels with him; trying eventually, and vainly, to use his strength to shore up the failing strengths of his parents.
The character of Jacob, deaf, irascible, easily offended and sensitive about the displacements of age, is not unfamiliar, but is drawn with feeling. Larry Bryggman enhances the rule by his performance; he holds himself awkwardly, and everything he touches with his carpenter's hands, a shade too heavily; the results are sometimes comic and sometimes affecting.
Jo Henderson plays Mary, irritated and depressed by the tensions between her husband and her son and worried about the future. Miss Henderson is taking on a role of which too many precursors exist, but she handles it with a wry charm, and avoids overstressing either the bleakness or the humor. Keith Szarabajka is quietly appealing in the fairly rudimentary role of the son.
What lifts the play above itself is the character of Mary's brother, Wilf. Large, bluff, a jovial drinker and exuberant worker, he is stricken and refined by the death of his wife. His two speeches recalling her show us a mind, used to simplicities, groping for strength and grasping it. They are the plays finest writing; and Joel Wolfe, with his aged cherub's face and his eyes shifting with effort, delivers a performance that illuminates them.
Ronald Roston's direction is competent though occasionally slow. "Fields" droops frequently into the commonplace, but when it does lift its head, its eyes glint. The Westchester Regional Theater's production deserves the gleams.