Sunday, August 10, 2014

More Ashland: The Tempest

Another Ashand note, this on The Tempest, with Denis Arndt as Prospero.

You've heard of him?  Just possibly.  He's not a celeb but he's 75 years old and by a survey of the evidence, he has a long history of employment in theatre, movies and TV.  More remarkably, I read that he played King Lear here in Ashland--twice, the most recent 28 years ago.  Any actor who outlives his Lear by 28 years gets points for, if nothing else, endurance.

His Prospero was what you might expect--or better "hope for" in someone with such a resume.  He makes  no effort to kid you about his age: he's bald and wrinkled.   Although he's also impressively fit (I read an interview somewhere where he speaks of acting as a kind of athletic event, and it's clear he approaches it that way).  Technically, his Shakespearean diction is excellent, although he does have a bit of a lisp which gets in the way of easy comprehension.  His presentation--I guess the best you can say is that it is entirely his own, the work of someone who knows who he is and what he can do and is willing to embrace the part on his own terms.

Put another way, I think the point is that his Prospero is  not anybody else's.  Specifically, my guess would be that for a couple of of generations now, actors have been trying to wiggle out from other the blanket of John Gielgud, who put a semi-permanent stamp on the role, with something like 30 renditions over a long career.  Arndt isn't Gielgud.  More important, he isn't trying to be Gielgud; he isn't even at war with him.  He's an old hoofer with a long resume and he brings to the part everything he knows about himself.

Fn.:  Several other lovely performances as well, not least Wayne T. Carr as Caliban. But I'm particularly pleased that they offered a shot to another old hoofer, this one cast somewhat against type. I'm talking about  Richard Elmore, a 30-year veteran of the Ashland company, who repaid this latest offering with a star turn as Stephano, the lord of misrule full of big dreams to take over Prospero's island for himself.

Fn to fn.: somebody must have done a dissertation comparing Stephano's princely aspirations with those of Sancho Panza , whose comic experiment at governance must have come into being at just about the same time.

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