on being the mother of Barnardine…

Jun 24, 2012 | 2 comments

In Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” the condemned prisoner Barnardine speaks only seven lines.  He is a drunk and dissolute fellow, awaiting execution for murder, yet he has been called “the particularly comic genius of the play” and has been said to have great significance in revealing the nature of the play, itself.  All that is absolutely true, say I, especially in the play’s current production at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles.

I speak with some authority, for I am Barnardine’s mother.  That is to say, as I watched my son Charlie in the role last night, I was totally transported.  Like everyone else in the audience, my attention I was riveted upon Charlie during his short appearance onstage and, motherhood notwithstanding, I saw and heard only Barnardine.  The ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ was complete.  More than complete, perhaps, because I felt as though I was that man’s mother… a strange sensation, indeed!

My reaction to Charlie’s other part in the play was even more complicated.  The director chose to set “Measure” in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in 1968 during the summer of love.  The crowd scenes are an energetic mixture of hippies and protestors and over-zealous cops with plenty of 60s music and singing thrown in for good measure (so to speak.)

In those scenes at the top of the show, Charlie is a sign-carrying Viet Nam vet confined to a wheelchair.  He is at once a participant in the street action, a leader of the singing, and a somewhat bemused onlooker.  It is apparent that this man is older and wiser, yet in complete agreement with his protesting companions.

Eerily, I felt I had known this man ‘back in the day.’  I didn’t really recognize him with his full beard and mustache and I don’t remember who I might have known that sat so (comfortably?) in a wheelchair.  But, it was something about his eyes – great sad, knowing eyes.  Yes, I knew that man…

It was a glorious evening all the way around.  We sat with Charlie’s long-time writing partner, Gordon Bressack; we met a few of Charlie’s friends who had come to the play; we talked afterwards with his fellow-actors who sang his praises.  Besides which, of course, he got a full pardon in the play and a good round of applause from the audience.  It was all very gratifying for this mother of Barnardine.


  1. Cheryl Kocher

    So glad you were able to see and enjoy Charlie’s play! Your reaction to his characters speaks to his talent as an actor! Congrats to Charlie! (and to Barnardine’s mother!) Enjoy your visit.

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    Your review of the play so makes me wish I could see it! I wish Charlie could be like Mickey and Judy and put on a performance in a barn in Oysterville! I, too, am glad that you and Nyel got to enjoy it.


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