By Ellen Wilson Dilks
Malvern’s People’s Light & Theatre Company (PLTC) plays host to a unique piece by Loudon Wainwright III running now until Feb. 5, 2017. Entitled “Surviving Twin”, performances are Tuesdays through Sundays on the Company’s Steinbright Stage.
Directed by film and TV star Daniel Stern, “Surviving Twin” is an homage to Wainwright’s father—the second of that name. Wainwright terms it a “posthumous collaboration.” Using his own music, as well as essays written by his father, the piece is also an exploration of the connections between parent and child—the good, the bad and the ugly. Like many of us Boomers (Wainwright is a vibrant 70), his relationship with his dad was complex and frequently distant. They resembled each other to an extent, and were both athletes. They both attended the same prep school in Middletown, DE, but had very different ideologies. The shared name added to the dynamic: Wainwright enters strumming his guitar and sings the title song, mentioning that his father made him a “numeral.”
The musician then weaves in various essays his father wrote for Life Magazine in a regular column called The View From Here. In “Surviving Twin”, he warmly opens his life up to us, using actual family memorabilia—such as a suit his father had made in London 63 years ago. Employing 10 songs and as many of his father’s essays, Wainwright fearlessly shows us a man who seems to have learned from the shortcomings of the past. His father’s and his own.
Both men’s wry sense of humor and delight in the ordinary comes through in their chosen mediums. The connections Wainwright makes between his work and his father’s is fascinating. He is wonderful at lifting his father’s words about day-to-day life in America off the page. You can see Wainwright’s appreciation for his father’s talent. He states in the show’s press release that each performance brings new insights into his father’s personality.
Probably best known for the ditty “Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road,” Wainwright’s songs are clever, his use of language deft. Playing guitar, banjo, ukulele and, finally, piano, he reveals the plusses and minuses of not only his relationship with his father, but (albeit briefly) his challenges with his musician son, Rufus, following the end of his first marriage.
“Surviving Twin” unfolds on a simple yet appropriate set created by PLTC’s resident designer, James F. Pyne, Jr. One feels as if they‘ve been invited to a private rehearsal room in a converted barn. Lily Fossner lights the piece beautifully, adding much to the tone and mood.
“Surviving Twin” will amuse and touch you—it will “tug at the heartstrings” a bit too. As I sat watching Wainwright’s performance, I couldn’t help but think of my late husband, who had virtually no real relationship with his dad, and my son—who had his relationship with his father cut short. The final number, Song In C, is exceedingly poignant. As family home movies flash on a screen, Wainwright sings about not knowing what else to do, so I’ll sing you a song in the key of C….
I highly recommend you get on out to Malvern to spend some time with Wainwright and “Surviving Twin”, it is a highly enjoyable 80 minutes. The production runs to Feb. 5, 2017 on the company’s Steinbright Stage, located at 39 Conestoga Road (Route 401), Malvern, PA. For information on performance times, tickets and directions, visit www.peopleslight.org or call the Box Office at 610-644-3500. The Box Office is open daily from 11am to 6pm.
A Little Family History:
Loudon Snowden Wainwright [the first] came from a political family; his great-grandfather was a diplomat. In addition, he was a descendent of Peter Stuyvesant. He died at 43 in 1942, leaving behind a widow and a son—who was only seventeen.
Loudon Snowden Wainwright, Jr. was born in New York City, New York, the son of Eleanor Painter (Sloan) and Loudon Snowden Wainwright. His great-grandfather was politician and diplomat A. Loudon Snowden. He graduated from St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware in 1942, and attended and graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After college, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. After WW II, he joined the staff of Life magazine and worked in a variety of positions over the years, including covering the Mercury astronauts. In 1964, he began writing “The View From Here”, a regular column in the magazine which appeared until the magazine ceased weekly publication in 1972. From 1969 on, he also served as assistant managing editor. He died of colon cancer on December 12, 1988, at age 63.
Loudon Snowden Wainwright, III was born in Chapel Hill, SC in September of 1946. Wainwright’s career began in the late 1960s. He had played the guitar while in school but later sold it for yoga lessons while living in San Francisco. Later, in Rhode Island, Wainwright’s grandmother got him a job working in a boatyard. An old lobsterman named Edgar inspired him to borrow a friend’s guitar and write his first song, “Edgar”. Wainwright soon bought his own guitar and in about a year wrote nearly twenty songs. He went to Boston and New York City to play in folk clubs and was eventually noticed by Milton Kramer, who became his manager. He acquired a record deal with Atlantic Records, which released his first album in 1970. In addition to music, Wainwright appeared on the TV series M*A*S*H as singing surgeon Capt. Calvin Spalding. He has continued acting and producing music for almost four decades.
Rufus Wainwright was born in July of 1973 in Rhinebeck, NY. His mother was folk singer/songwriter Kate McGarrigle. His parent’s marriage ended in divorce when he was three and he grew up with his mother in Montreal, Canada. He started touring with his mother, his aunts and his sister Martha when he was thirteen. He has recorded seven albums of original music and numerous tracks on compilations and film soundtracks. He has also written a classical opera and set Shakespeare sonnets to music for a theater piece by Robert Wilson. In late 2010, Wainwright became engaged to his partner Jörn Weisbrodt. The couple moved to Toronto, Ontario in early 2012 after Weisbrodt was named artistic director of Toronto’s annual Luminato festival. In 2011, Wainwright announced that he and childhood friend Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen, had had a child in a parenting partnership.
Editor’s Note: Also be sure and check out Delco Culture Vultures interview with Loudon Wainwright III.