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Review: Bard comically humanized off-Broadway
NEW YORK (AP) - A good one-man show leaves the audience wanting more, which is exactly what happens with James DeVita’s satisfactory piece, “In Acting Shakespeare.”
DeVita is an ingratiating host throughout his comical and expressive show, which opened Sunday night off-Broadway at The Pearl Theatre. He relates that attending a 1987 performance of Sir Ian McKellen’s solo show “Acting Shakespeare” transformed DeVita’s life, to the point where he eventually got permission from McKellen to create his own version, crediting John Langs as the original director.
Since seeing McKellen, DeVita says he’s spent the past 25 years trying to learn to “make Shakespeare’s language actually sound like a person talking.” In his words, “I wanted to be kind of like the Gene Kelly of Shakespeare,” which he explains as “a regular guy who just happened to speak poetry.” Genially and sometimes ruefully, he recounts his insecurities and difficulties with acting.
More than credibly performing parts of famous Shakespearean speeches, and discussing some of the great actors who’ve done so, DeVita also relates or enacts seminal events in his own and Shakespeare’s lives.
Starting with his own three attempts to stay in college and his early career cleaning fish on a Long Island charter boat, he goes on to imagine how young country boy William might have seen his first theater troupe, and how later on he might have argued with his father about leaving the family wool shop and going off to London to be a playwright and actor.
To illustrate his points, DeVita briefly impersonates a number of people, from his own frustrated acting teachers to larger-than-life theatrical figures. One hilarious bit has famed Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage castigating his friend Will for inventing confusing words in “Hamlet.” DeVita says that Shakespeare added more than 2,000 words to the English language, “600 in Hamlet alone.” That could explain what Burbage was yelling about.
By sharing insights and humor from his never-ending journey toward honesty and understanding in performing the glorious language of Shakespeare, DeVita shines a light for all of us on The Bard’s articulation of “the things we feel in our hearts but can’t always express.”
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