A colossal performance: Christopher Plummer sits high atop the thespian throne
Written by William Luce
Starring Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer in Barrymore. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
John Barrymore once said: “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”
No one personifies these immortal words better than Christopher Plummer. A living legend in his own right, the 80-year-old actor has the swagger of a much younger man in William Luce‘s Barrymore. Plummer’s charismatic portrayal of the iconic American stage and film actor proves that passion is the best anti-aging remedy.
Barrymore premiered at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in September 1996, and has since toured several US cities, enjoyed a sold-out run in Toronto and opened at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre in March 1997. Plummer won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Actor by a Leading Actor in a Play.
Set in 1942, the final year of Barrymore’s life, the action takes place on the stage of a Broadway theatre, where the actor is struggling to recreate his performance in the title role of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
In a candid, comical and heartbreaking performance, Plummer embodies the quick-witted, heavy-drinking “Jack,” revealing intimate details of his life story while harassing the offstage prompter (played by John Plumpis).
Part biography, part show biz commentary, Luce’s script is a magnificent tribute to Barrymore’s one-of-a-kind charm. We learn about his childhood, his mentally unstable father Maurice, his siblings Lionel and Ethel and his longtime friendship with playwright Edward (Ned) Sheldon.
The narrative swings wildly between extreme highs and sobering lows. One moment he’s singing, dancing, cracking jokes and reciting dirty limericks. Next, he’s spouting Shakespearean soliloquies and facing the end of his career.
The range of Plummer’s acting ability is simply awe-inspiring. He delivers punchlines with perfect, tongue-in-cheek timing, followed by a dramatic monologue or a declaration of self loathing. This man is very in touch with his character’s contradictory nature, and judging by this performance, he relishes every minute of it.
Ultimately, Plummer brings the best out of Barrymore, and the dead actor shines through him. Fans of the famous family of actors will especially appreciate his impression of Lionel. While I hail from the Drew generation of Barrymores, my father tells me it’s spot on.
As Barrymore says, “One of my chief regrets during my years in the theatre is that I could not sit in the audience and watch me.”
Go watch him at the Elgin Theatre now until March 9, 2011. Visit barrymoretheplay.com for more information and to buy tickets.