- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

It’s hard to upstage Shakespeare, but a nine-months-pregnant Alexandra Wentworth came close to doing so Monday at the Shakespeare Theatre’s annual Will Awards ceremony for actors and scholars of proven accomplishment. British-born actor Jeremy Irons and Harvard University’s Stephen Greenblatt, author of “Will in the World,” were this year’s honorees at the National Building Museum.

Ms. Wentworth and her husband, George Stephanopoulos, two of the evening’s co-chairs, had just finished a clever staged exchange from “The Taming of the Shrew” (George as Petruchio to Alexandra’s Katharina: “Women are made to bear and so are you.”), when she called Artistic Director Michael Kahn to the podium, hailing him as “a man for whom a woman about to go into labor would wear heels.” Other introducers included Jack Valenti and Aspen Institute chief Walter Isaacson.

Mr. Irons did a surprise bit of scripting, as well.

Accepting the sculpted award from Mr. Kahn in the sonorous and gracious way of a classically trained actor, he lapsed into the recital of an old English nursery rhyme that he said his mother had read to him as a child every night before bed. (Some Web sleuthing by Shakespeare Theatre National Council member Connie Mourtoupalas revealed its title to be “Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella” written by Constance Heward.) If the audience of 400 seemed puzzled, they were in no way disappointed by his delivery.

Earlier in a press conference, he gave a thoughtful answer to a question about his experience playing Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” one of his favorite roles. Perhaps best known in this country for playing Charles Ryder in TV’s “Brideshead Revisited” more than 20 years ago, Mr. Irons, 56, currently stars in “Kingdom of Heaven,” directed by Ridley Scott, and will next do a TV film about Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren, being shot in Lithuania.

His last stage role was 14 years ago, he said. “As you get older,” he admitted with a slight smile, “it gets harder and harder to remember the lines.”

If Mr. Irons identifies greatly with Richard II (“You discover the kernel and humanity of the man, and also it’s a play written with great love for my country”), benefit guests weren’t reluctant to express their own personal alter egos among Shakespearean characters. Ms. Wentworth said she would be Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” National Building Museum Director Chase Rynd chose Mercutio (“because he is so active”) of “Romeo and Juliet.” TV’s Chris Matthews opted for Falstaff (“Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry IV, Parts I and II”). Greek Ambassador George Savvaides volunteered “‘Hamlet’ — “because Greeks analyze things to death in terms of principle.”

Ann Geracimos

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