Ronald Harwood David Mayer - Essay

David Mayer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What mars … Ronald Harwood's A Family is its tired structure and laboured profundities couched in the sort of dialogue where each time a character says anything at all, It Means Something Significant. The structure of A Family is cast from the late 19th-century mould, wrought by Ibsen and his contemporaries and seized by such 20th-century authors as O'Neill and Miller, where the arms of the past reach in to snatch at the present, a stalled Newtonian machine years later kicked suddenly into life so that every past action is reciprocated by its long-delayed reaction.

And as the play's main spring is a war-time memory, repressed and unacknowledged for 33 years, of a father's … heroic and disastrously misguided attempt to rescue his son from wartime Italy, where the son …, even then a lad big enough to know his own mind, had, on fleeing a German POW camp, joined a partisan guerrilla band and fallen deeply in love with a local girl. The ensuing complications, enforced liberation and the girl's suicide, all awkwardly recalled in lumpish flashbacks, may be physical, but the reactions are deeply psychological…. Happiness, suggests Harwood, is a resolved Oedipal conflict, and gives us … [the father] as a crusty and meddlesome Laius with a deaf-aid and parachutist's kit, eventually struck down by his son, not at a Delphic crossroad, but in the claustrophobic bosom of a Jewish family knit together by skeins of fear, hatred and recrimination. In A Family all is revealed, all is explained. The machine never falters. (pp. 29-30)

David Mayer, in a review of "A Family," in Plays and Players, Vol. 25, No. 10, July, 1978, pp. 29-30.