- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

The prologue to Shakespeare Theatre's 13th Will Award gala Saturday at the Embassy of the Russia Federation was an extended cocktail hour and a longer receiving line than usual.

"A historic moment," as embassy representative Boris Marchouv said in remarks later inside the lavish ballroom with its 18 glittering crystal chandeliers lighting up an outsized face of the bard in backdrop. "We have not seen so many celebrities here before at one time."

Not only was actor Anthony Hopkins present to receive the 2000 William Shakespeare Award for Classical Acting, but also Elizabeth Ashley, Dixie Carter, Harry Hamlin, Tom Hulce and Kelly McGillis, all on hand to pick up Millennium Recognition Awards for their participation in past theater productions. Their presence and 400 formally clad dinner subscribers paying $500 each guaranteed more than $400,000 profit and heavy-duty tributes all around.

"I hope you collected their checks before the market went down yesterday," said Trustee Board head Landon Butler jokingly, warming up the crowd after dinner.

The buzz of the night was about Welsh-born Mr. Hopkins, an American resident since 1975, becoming a U.S. citizen on Wednesday and the curious absence of both the British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer and his wife from a reception the embassy hosted for Millennium honorees on Friday. As it turned out, Mr. Hopkins hadn't even arrived in town yet, and the ambassador was tied up in World Bank-related meetings.

"I've spent more time here than in Britain," Mr. Hopkins explained earlier in a mini news conference. "It's good to give something back and become a citizen." No, it wasn't a business decision, he affirmed, noting that he still retains British citizenship and his knighthood in spite of jeers this week from British tabloids. And, no, he hasn't yet memorized "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Of his choice to perform the title role in Julie Taymor's film version of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," he said "I never do anything in half measures." He begins filming in Florence in three weeks for the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," for which he won a 1991 Oscar, and will be back in Washington in June for scenes of the movie, called "Hannibal," due to be shot here.

Only one Will awardee Patrick Stewart ever has performed subsequently on the Shakespeare Theatre stage, but that doesn't stop irrepressible Artistic Director Michael Kahn from trying to lure guest artists of equal stature. "Tonight we're not only celebrating the genius of Shakespeare but also of acting," he said, adding that "these awards come with our hearts attached but also a very, very long string."

Miss Ashley dubbed him "the Mighty Kahn" in quixotic words of acceptance, and a currently retired Mr. Hulce, who played "Hamlet," all but pledged a return there before anywhere else. Mr. Hamlin ("Henry V") is in a TV comedy series while seriously helping care for a baby daughter, and Miss McGillis, whom Mr. Kahn praised as "one of the most talented students I've ever had," is in a pilot project for CBS-TV and a Broadway play this fall.

National Arts Endowment head William Ivey introduced Mr. Hopkins in effusive remarks as someone who "exemplifies every quality for which the Will award was established."

The evening's epilogue was delivered by a gracious, sonorous honoree. "In England, less is more. In America, more is better," he began. "I see eyes looking at me all evening [saying] 'Tony, what have you done?'" A 1974 stage role in "Equus," in New York, was "the beginning of a great change in my life. I've had a bumpy career. I've never lived by half measures."

"What I love about America is your tremendous generosity," he concluded. "It's over the top." Then a swaggering Anglo-Saxon flourish: "Life is tough. And life is big."

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