Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Barrymore"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark


by William Luce
Directed by Gene Sacks

Sets and Costumes Design by Santo Loquasto
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Hair Design by Michael Kriston
Stage Manager Susan Konynenburg

Stage Manager...........Christopher Plummer
Frank..... .Michael Mastro

An actor, at forty-nine past his prime, walks onto an empty stage to rehearse a revival of his first triumph, "Richard III". As with most good actors, his mind is everywhere and anywhere but on his lines, and he bickers, berates, banters with an off-stage prompter. As an abstract exercise, that could describe a mordantly boring absurdist tragedy. But the stage is the Colonial Theatre, the actor is the irrepressibly witty John Barrymore letting it all including his talent hang out, and he is played by Christopher Plummer. "Barrymore," written by William Luce, is magnificent.

Plummer sashays onstage, his frosted hair belied by a slinky soft-shoe while humming "When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam". The gusto he gives to scatological limericks, the satiric slice that edges all his comments on the Royal Family of American Theater or four failed marriages always insists John Barrymore was a man with an effervescent self-satirical enjoyment of life. And in the midst of a risque joke Plummer can whip into a soliloquy rimmed with a fire that recreates the grandiloquent style of the period.

There is never an apology or an alibi wasted over the years spent in Hollywood squandering talent and time, or the non-stop drinking and non-stop madcap partying on which he devoted as much stylish talent as he did on his Hamlet or his Richard. He drops lines and muffs lines and lapses into speeches from the wrong play, he doubts and despairs and self-depricates --- and uncorks a zinger of a speech like a lightning-stroke out of nowhere.

William Luce wrote a stunning one-man show, and Michael Mastro's unseen stage-manager adds dialog, and Director Gene Sacks has seen to it that the quicksilver turns from comic to quiet are totally seamless. But not even John Barrymore himself upstages Christopher Plummer. "Barrymore" is his show, and it's magnificent.



106 Boylston Street, BOSTON

only till 26 January


THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide