Life With Father, by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

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This is a play I stumbled on when preparing for a David Mamet Masterclass. I had life do that intervening thing, so I haven’t taken the class yet, but I saw the play on the shelf and thumbed through it, then just went ahead and read it.

As far as interesting characters go in plays post-Shakespeare, this family is among the most interesting batch of characters I’ve read so far. Life With Father is based off the autobiographical comedic writings of Clarence Day, and adapted in three acts for the stage by powerhouse playwriting team Lindsay and Crouse.

Father is also known as Clare, to differentiate him from Clarence Jr when speaking (the issues with mail in the house get muddled often between these two names). Vinnie is the mother, who is all about trying to get things for the house and make her husband feel like much of  it was his idea. The other children besides Clarence Jr. are John, Whitney, and Harlan, all otherwise normal kiddos trying to navigate the minefield that is their father’s moods.

Clare is all about trying to keep the bills down and the house in order. He sounds like the world’s biggest cheapskate, but considering how many people live in the house, how many drop by, how many maids they’re going through and requests to go out once in a while…yeah, I’d be a bit tight-fisted, too. Vinnie is his saintly wife in most respects, all about making sure the home is a godly one, and is horrified when it slips that Clare may never have been baptized.

Much of the action in the rest of the play revolves around her scheming to get him baptized while he–completely annoyed by the idea of religion and having to pay to help their local church in its move–does all he can to avoid the discussion and the possibility. In between all this carrying on, the kids are trying to be kids, with John trying to make his own money, Clarence Jr. getting a crush on a visitor to the home and trying for new clothes, and the younger kiddos just trying to enjoy being kids out and about while grousing over having to eat oatmeal.

This is an interesting family to read, and I bet it would be tons of fun to see on the stage. There are lots of stage directions in this one, so it might be annoying trying to get past them, but they help set the scene pretty well.

By the way, there was also a film version of this play you can watch. I’ve never seen it, but I can only wonder how much would be changed. It’s not that long a play, after all.

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