Hugh Leonard's 1978 play opens in a small Irish house where London expatriate Charlie (Rees Pugh) has returned to settle the affairs of his adopted father, called familiarly Da (understudy Austin Grehan). Charlie's love for his parents has been colored with embarrassment by his father's unambitious gardener's job. Charlie is beholden to him yet never able to properly pay him back. He is visited by a childhood friend, Oliver (Ryan Kennard Burke), and their reminiscences are awkward and establish insight into Charlie's separation from his childhood home. His father's ghost suddenly appears and announces that he never did much like Oliver.
From this moment on, Charlie begins to relive his history, as his mother (Amelia White), an old employer (John Harnagel), a girl of dubious reputation (Lila Dupree), his father's former employer (Karen Kähler), and even a younger version of himself (T.J. Marchbank) appear, and their interactions make clearer Charlie's difficulty grappling with the emotional closure of his past.
Humorous and with a requisite dose of Irish melancholy, Leonard's play is semiautobiographical, giving it an authentic voice. Director Bill Mesnik keeps the tone realistic, and the ensemble works well together, achieving highly believable characterizations. David Calhoun's effective lighting and stage design create an authentic setting for Leonard's story.
On the night reviewed, Grehan, pressed into service and on book for the latter part of the play, executed the dialogue smoothly with few pauses. His soft-spoken delivery coupled with his Irish accent, however, made it difficult to understand all of his lines. As a result, the dynamic between Charlie and his Da lacked dramatic edge.
"Da" was a Tony Award winner when it was produced, but now, 30 years later, its psychoanalytic examination of family dynamics seems a little too familiar to engender much more than mild disapproval of his parents' shortcomings. Marchbank and Pugh are excellent in their roles, and White is convincingly autocratic, so in the end it is a polished production that is entertaining but breaks no new ground.
Presented by and at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. March 12–April 17. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (Dark March 14.) (626) 355-4318. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.