Great theatre blooms on Toronto stages this spring

Plummer brilliant in Barrymore and Soulpepper has two new plays on tap this month


Published:

There are few pleasures that are greater than witnessing magnificent performances: in sports, politics and, of course, theatre.

With Barrymore, Christopher Plummer, one of the world’s finest classical performers, has matched Obama’s inaugural address; perhaps, at times, dare I say it, approaching Wayne Gretzky’s best. (And at the age of 81!)

Plummer portrays the title character, who was his artistic equivalent in the first third of the 20th century, in the last month of Jack’s life when the scion of that great theatrical family was barely 60. The play is far from excellent but wondrously entertaining. Plummer’s performance is superb.

John Barrymore was a deeply flawed man, steeped in drink, ex- wives aplenty and self-loathing, only partially explained by his having been seduced by his stepmother at the age of 11.

It’s a very brief play. It was far longer when Plummer first played it at the Stratford Festival in 1996. He went on to travel with that production across North America before winning a Tony Award on Broadway. But it is often deeply moving, even horrifying, as we watch this incarnation of the gifted performer of nearly a century ago banter with his offstage prompter; sing and dance; and do great voices (of W. C. Fields, his siblings Lionel and even Ethel). Not to mention, he rattles off some of the finest Shakespearean speeches from the grand plays that made John Barrymore a star onstage (and later in a number of silent and sound films). And try not to be moved when he cries out in panic at his fading memory (“Line!” he keeps crying out to his prompter, and later, the audience howls with laughter, mixed with some tears, when the dying actor screams “Line? . . . uh, the PLAY?”)

If you’ve seen Plummer’s work at Stratford over the decades and his greatest performance in film, as Mike Wallace in The Insider, you already know of what brilliance he is capable.

You have until only March 9 to see this extraordinary actor down at the Elgin, and I beg you to catch him as Barrymore. Who else can play a staggering, stumbling, hilarious drunk and suddenly burst into Hamlet’s heartbreaking “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy so perfectly?

Soulpepper gets Shakespearian

Two Soulpepper shows are sure to put a spring in Toronto theatre- goers’ steps this month should the weather not comply.

Shakespeare can often be daunting, and his Midsummer is from his middle, Elizabethan period, written just after Merchant of Venice and just before Henry V, Richard II and Julius Caesar, around 1595.

The play is complex and gloriously poetic with its three interwoven plots, vaudevillian laughs and echoes of Ovid.

Looking for a way to connect Plummer’s Barrymore with the two productions at Soulpepper? One doesn’t have to look far: in the first scene of the first act of the Shakespeare comedy, Lysander declares, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Ain’t it the truth?

The company is also mounting a production of The Fantasticks, which runs until March 24 — a simple, sweet, youthful work with at least a half-dozen wonderful songs with memorable lyrics. I’ve seen it a half-dozen times and long to enjoy it again, and it’s one of the few “classic” musicals that you can take even preteens to. Prepare for a magical night.

Allan Gould is Post City’s theatre critic. For reviews of current Toronto productions go to www.postcity.com.

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

Thornhill mom-and-pop shop fights back

Thornhill mom-and-pop shop fights back

Posted 1 week ago
Old rivalries emerge in Thornhill council

Old rivalries emerge in Thornhill council

A Thornhill councillor and upstart community firebrand face off on social media and in council.
Posted 4 weeks ago
Outdoor flick fest features Born Ruffians rocker making film debut

Outdoor flick fest features Born Ruffians rocker making film debut

Luke Lalonde, lead singer of Canadian indie band the Born Ruffians, can now count acting as one of his many talents. Lalonde stars in the new movie Sundowners and will be performing prior to a screening of the film on Aug. 29 as part of Toronto’s Open Roof Festival.
Posted 1 month ago
Police investigate ‘swatting’ in Rosedale

Police investigate ‘swatting’ in Rosedale

Posted 2 months ago
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module