On Saturday we drove to Stratford, Ontario, home of the renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A quick hour and a half from Toronto through rolling farmland,
once you leave the craziness of Highway 401, the summer schedule offered each year never fails to please. There is always something for everyone and on many occasions a production has carried on to Broadway.
Stage and screen actor (and academy award winner!) Christopher Plummer has performed in Stratford most seasons since his first big role as Henry V in 1956. When we know he is confirmed for a play there, we dash to get tickets before they sell out.
This year he is appearing for a limited number of dates in a fantastic one-man performance, “A Word Or Two”, which he describes as a celebration of language and the words that have influenced him from childhood throughout his life. Plummer worries that language is “fast vanishing from our midst”.
In an interview Plummer said, “Each decade there are poets and prose writers who have influenced me.”
As he takes us on a fascinating literary journey through his 82 years, his superb theatrical talents carry us along on a magical ride. I couldn’t begin to write about it as well as the well-known (and my favourite) Toronto theatre critic, Richard Ouzounian and I repost below his review from The Toronto Star.
Theatre Review: Bow gratefully to Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two
A WORD OR TWO
(out of 4)
Written, arranged and performed by Christopher Plummer. Directed by Des McAnuff. Until Aug. 26 at the Avon Theatre. 1-800-567-1600
STRATFORD, ONT.—You don’t review a show like Christopher Plummer’s A Word or Two, which opened Thursday night at the Stratford Festival. You simply bow gratefully, say “Thank you, Mr. Plummer,” and urge everyone reading this to buy tickets as rapidly as possible.
Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to spend 90 minutes in the company of the finest actor of his time, hearing a dazzling store of literary gems while gaining an insight into the man? Well, that is what’s in store for you in this silky smooth, yet deceptively moving piece.
The premise is simple. Plummer will tell us about his life through the books, plays and poems he has loved and performed during his life.
Against a gravity-defying stack of books, courtesy of Robert Brill, lit with care by Michael Walton and accompanied by wonderfully subtle music by Michael Roth, this 82-year-old national treasure starts as Louis Carroll’s “Aged, Aged Man” and proceeds to take us on a whirlwind tour of his fascinating existence and the authors who have accompanied it.
The miracle is watching the dexterity with which Plummer shifts accents, postures, aged and moods in the flickering of an eye.
W.H. Auden’s Herod, presented here as the epicene brother of Truman Capote? Check. The “Song of Solomon,” rendered with the full-blooded passion of a Renaissance lover? Got it.
But then there’s his more subtle, almost invisible transformations. He’s well into Robert Frost’s amazing “Birches,” before you realize that he’s truly turned into a New England farmer, crusty yet friendly all at once.
He gives us a simple selection from Shakespeare, but makes sure it’s memorable. A Hamlet blazing with the need to act, but frustrated his inability to commit and an Othello who suddenly sees the dazzling downward spiral his jealousy has taken him on.
Plummer loves to entertain and there is charm and laughter a-plenty in this piece, but there’s an interesting thing to note near the top.
He performs speeches by both the devil and Don Juan from Shaw’s epic Man and Superman. While the “good” Don Juan is persuasive, Plummer is even more convincing as the devil. You come to realize, in fact, that he’s most comfortable on the dark side.
And I wouldn’t trade a single moment of the final sequences where Plummer looks at death with curiosity, apprehension and — finally — acceptance.
All of this is in the final speech from Cyrano de Bergerac, where Plummer dances with the devil, fences with the dark master, defies Lucifer and stands up for the graces he believes in, doing all of this with elegance, grace and a joyous bilingual delivery of the lines.
You owe it to yourself to see A Word or Two, just for the experience of that speech, a great artist with great material still at the height of his powers.
“When comes such another?” asks Marc Antony of Caesar. I would say the same about Christopher Plummer. This only runs until Aug. 26. See it while you can.
What live theatre have you attended lately? Or maybe you have performed in something yourself … like our talented friend, writer and blogger, Amy Shojai! Have you ever seen any live performances by Christopher Plummer? If you have the opportunity, grab it!