Daddy was the Biggest Stage Mother in Texas
nytheatre.com review by Eric Pliner
August 15, 2004
As a piece of reflective autobiography, Jack Dyville’s Daddy Was the Biggest Stage Mother in Texas is certainly heartfelt. Hopefully, revisiting his experiences as the showbiz-loving son of a well-meaning but hard-pushing father proved therapeutic for the playwright. Unfortunately, even the most sincere experiences of resignation and love do not make a successful story in and of themselves; as a piece of theatre, Daddy doesn't work.
Dyville’s writing is full of the sort of cliched lines that typify either inexperience or unintentional camp. Halfway through the production, Dyville’s script has actors suddenly begin to address the audience. The play’s primary conflict doesn’t make sense: the father and child ostensibly clash because they want different things for the son, yet in this script, both seem primarily driven by the same thing—wanting Jack to succeed as an entertainer. And the overall story itself, while undoubtedly important and moving to those who lived it, feels like the sort of coming out tale that was played out (and much better played) in theatre and film even ten years ago.
Director Joan Eileen Murray stages virtually every detail completely literally. Her choices, especially having the actors repeatedly mime opening and closing doors and windows, are largely distracting, and add little to the script.
As Daddy, actor Ron Palillo (best known as Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter) is a sputtering mess, bungling lines and alternating between his familiar Brooklyn accent and one that’s pseudo-Southern (but occasionally sounds British). His most emotional scenes convey feelings that don’t seem to match with his facial expressions, and he appears occasionally disoriented throughout.
The other actors seem to do the best they can with what they’re given. Actor Keith Everett, playing Jack from childhood to adulthood, is a respectable tap dancer. As Mother, Kelly K. Griffith works hard to maintain some authenticity and sincerity, and she does a solid job. And in six different—and mostly comic—roles, Theresa Rose manages to create a larger number of convincing and entertaining characters than the rest of the cast combined.
In fairness, there are a few amusing moments, and it would be wrong to discuss Daddy Was the Biggest Stage Mother in Texas without re-asserting how heartfelt a work it appears to be. Jack Dyville has clearly lived a full life, and it might be exciting to see him re-work this piece as a solo performance (that, with his apparent wealth of talents, he might think about starring in). That way, these undoubtedly moving experiences could be shared directly from the source, the undertone of sincerity wouldn’t be lost, and the author’s real personality might shine through. I have a hunch that that sort of approach might make Daddy proud.