The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0431 Thursday, 24 July 2008
Date: Thursday, July 24, 2008
Subject: Roger Rees' Shakespeare Show
FROM: San Francisco Chronicle Online
Roger Rees' Shakespeare Show
Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
What You Will: One-man show. Created and performed by Roger Rees. (Through Aug.
9. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. 95 minutes.
Tickets: $29-$85. Call (415) 749-2228 or go to www.act-sf.org.)
The best moment in playing Juliet is "the nanosecond when they offer you the
part." One of the hardest lines to deliver in "Macbeth" is Malcolm's reaction
when told his father has been brutally murdered: "Oh. By whom?" The worst thing
about the "To be or not to be" soliloquy is delivering it immediately after
making an entrance, with the whole audience knowing what you're about to say. It
isn't just the offbeat insights into performing Shakespeare that make Roger
Rees' "What You Will" an absolute delight. The anecdotes, drawn from 22 years
with the Royal Shakespeare Company (the Juliet observation comes from former
colleague Judi Dench), are terrific. The criticisms -- from the laments of young
students to the venom of D.H. Lawrence and Voltaire -- range from amusing to
hilarious. The Shakespeare speeches (and one sonnet) are delivered with mastery.
And that's not even counting the outstanding passages from Charles Dickens and
James Thurber. "Will," which opened Monday for a limited run at American
Conservatory Theater, is a treat for lovers of Shakespeare and those who may
have felt daunted, bored or confused by him alike. Created by Rees last year for
the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., and reprised at Massachusetts'
Williamstown Theatre (where he was artistic director), "Will" is a distinct
departure from the great-speeches solo shows made famous by John Gielgud or the
autobiographical approach of Lynn Redgrave's "Shakespeare for My Father." Rees
offers snippets of his life -- childhood in Wales; spear-carrying with Ben
Kingsley in their early RSC years; his first tiny speaking roles; a moment with
Laurence Olivier when they were filming "The Ebony Tower."
He more than does justice to speeches ranging from the "muse of fire" from
"Henry V," Macbeth's dagger vision and Hamlet's "To be" and "rogue and peasant
slave" soliloquies (Rees holds the Stratford-Upon-Avon record for playing
Hamlet) to both a smitten adolescent Romeo and garrulous old Nurse from "Romeo
and Juliet." But it's the way he sets up these passages that distinguishes
"Will" as much as his trippingly-on-the-tongue delivery. Whether citing online
student complaints and commentaries about the Bard and his "Islamic pentameter"
or anecdotes about David Garrick's special-effects wig or Edmund Kean's preshow
sexual needs, Rees uses a continuous flow of humor to set up the dramatic
moments. A casual, charming figure in a loose shirt and brown slacks - framed by
Alexander V. Nichols' theatrical-clutter set and moody lighting - he slips into
the characters with an ease as comfortable as it is transparent.
He's more obviously acting in quick impersonations of Voltaire or George Bernard
Shaw than in the Shakespeare passages. His rendition of a Dickens scene from
"Great Expectations" is touching and cleverly crafted. His take on Thurber's
"The Macbeth Murder Mystery" is a comic gem.
By contrast, his Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard II and Lear seem easy and natural.
Rees uses his humorous, colloquial framework not just to increase the dramatic
intensity and highlight the beauty of his Shakespeare, but to demystify it as
well. "Will" makes Shakespeare as familiar as breathing, which is yet another
beguiling aspect to Rees' delightful show.
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