Saturday, August 4, 2012

Plummer offers so much more than a word or two

Cutline: Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two. Photo by David Hou.

A Word or Two
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Written, arranged and performed by Christopher Plummer
Directed by Des McAnuff
Set design by Robert Brill
Avon Theatre

Written by Geoff Dale

Of all the productions at the 60th anniversary of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Christopher Plummer’s A Word or Two is arguably the most fascinating and satisfying entry.

That’s not because the 82-year-old Plummer is returning after finally nabbing his first Oscar for his supporting role in the indy film Beginners last year or that curiosity pulls the audience in simply to see if this is nothing more than a vanity project.

On the last count – it is not.

What is intriguing about this superbly entertaining 90 minute one-man performance is its subject – the actor’s heartfelt celebration of language which, in his own words, he describes as seeming to be “fast vanishing from our midst.”

In the works for many years, the resulting production is simply spell-binding. Whether he’s exuberantly echoing the words of Shakespeare, W.H. Auden or George Bernard Shaw or just recalling the time when his mother dragged him out from under the snows of Montreal, after succumbing to the effects of too much booze, this is a production that captures you and won’t release you until you’ve left your seat.

Given the fact that he’s only months from birthday number 83, the walk through his eight decades seems rather quick but it is nonetheless packed with emotion – whether it those wondrous moments when he’s singing one of the lovely Quebecois tunes like A La Claire Fontaine in picture perfect French or musing over his youthful interpretation of the Trinity as only having to attend church three times a year.

He pokes fun at himself, and digs deeps into his past, recalling delightful little moments like the time when Gershwin friend and fellow pianist Oscar Levant, in the midst of  one of his two weddings, whispered into the ear of the justice-of-the peace questioning whether he was doing the right thing.

The pub-crawling Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is brought back to life; Robert Frost’s words are hauntingly revisited one more time and Shakespeare, Marlowe and so many more persons of the written and spoken word are given their due by the Oscar-winning Plummer.

Director Des McAnuff is at the top of his game here, skillfully guiding Plummer along his theatrically short but rich journey. Robert Brill’s set is simplistic – a jagged spiral to the heavens composed of books, with trees to one side and the occasional video aid projected to the back. Video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis’ elegant visual work matches the presenter word for word.

From sun glasses, cane and hand fan to an assortment of chairs, props are few but very much essential to the production.

Then there’s that old man – seen only by Plummer – waiting in the wings or perhaps even in the audience. Words are powerful, mesmerizing and ultimately what we are all about. Let’s hope for many more nights like this and that Christopher Plummer is around for years to come to remind us of the power of language.

And lest we forget, he casually alludes to the likes of Stephen Harper, the late Gord Vidal and even Justin Beiber but thankfully, there is a nary a mention of The Sound of Music or, as media types love to unrelentingly remind us, his renaming of the award-winning film as The Sound of Mucous.

We thank you Christopher for that merciful omission.

Giving A Word or Two five stars is a bit too gimmicky so let’s settle for **** out of four stars. This is a must-see for all Plummer fans and, of course, the spoken word.

This review can also be found online at: the beat magazine

Runs until August 26
Approximate running time: 1 hour 25 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or online


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