BWW Movie Reviews: BARRYMORE - A Great Actor Embodies a Great Actor
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by Tanya Rubinstein
"A Great Actor Embodies a Great Actor"
After seeing the film version of the stage play "Barrymore" the other night at then Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, I looked up the information on the evolution of this brilliant show.
Evidently Christopher Plummer stepped into the role originally in 1995. The show was done in a run in NYC. He is now performing in regularly in his hometown of Toronto and taking it on tour.
The film version was produced in 2011 and appears to be making it's way across the planet.
Here is Santa Fe, there was a large crown for the one night only screening at the Lensic. Theater.
Now, I normally do not review films, only live plays. But this show as filmed in such a way that it is a play. It is an intimate and powerful version of a play.
And with this new HD technology, on the big screen one experiences it as if one is in the front row, which is really, really marvelous.
In the first few minutes, I felt irritated. "Oh, no" I thought as Plummer as Barrymore stumbled around the stage. "Is this just another version of the brilliant yet ravaged drunk artist who never overcomes his demons?"
Well, the answer to that question is both yes and no.
Yes, in some ways the story is a cliché. But, because of the aliveness of Plummer's performance, it does transcend that potential trap.
The writing is tight and specific with really interesting stories included that make up his life. From his relationship with his famous siblings (Lionel and Ethel) to his commentary on his own stage roles, it is all quite compelling. It is a deep inventory of a full life towards the end of that life. Ultimately, I found the play to be a deep reflection on mortality-the fight against facing it and the ultimate surrender and acceptance of it.
And despite the characters deep and painfully extreme alcoholism that has robbed him of some of his gifts including the ability to remember his lines, his insightful reflection of himself keeps the script from being a maudlin tragedy.
While self- indulgent, the character of Barrymore is ultimately both honest with himself and humble. As he accepts his limitations we find the triumph of Spirit that preserves his legacy of greatness.
Plummer is totally embodied in this role with great nuance. His depth of understanding of the character's intelligence, bawdiness and ironic humor translates as complete and whole. In the most vulnerable moments of the film, he enrages us and breaks our hearts in one fell swoop.
Plummer as Barrymore plays at least ten characters including his famous siblings. These moments are surprising and add a much appreciated levity.
As a solo coach and director, I loved the unique device of putting a stage manager offstage who is being paid to help Barrymore both with his lines and keeping him on task. This character is there to chide him, urge him forward and believe in him. And this character serves the role of a Greek Chorus.
Another interesting device is the fact that he is in rehearsal for Richard the Third. Richard was considered his greatest role, thirty years previous. In a way, his signature role in this play within a play comes back to both taunt him and elude him. In many ways Richard's deformities mirror his own shortcomings. We see and he sees his deformities, which are not so much physical as psychological.
Barrymore's period of greatness is over. His understanding that it was over was faced with a lot of personal integrity. That is what moved me the most. And in that revelation, the character opens to a new form of greatness, built not on the ability to practice his craft, but to enter his oneness with all of humanity.
Great direction, gorgeous staging and lighting all make this an incredible experience. But the star of the show is Barrymore himself. I can only imagine his joy at the immortality he is now experiencing.