- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

"Measure For Measure," none of Michael Kahn's "labours" on behalf of Shakespeare and other classical dramatists has been lost.
At least not to judge by comments offered up with much pizazz in Mr. Kahn's honor at the Shakespeare Theatre's annual fund-raising fete, held Saturday in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The scene was hardly "Much Ado About Nothing" when the eminent teacher and director was given the institution's 2002 Will Award the 15th annual William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre to commemorate four decades of pioneering passion for the Bard.
"It's the Oscars for Michael," announced actress Christine Baranski triumphantly at a press conference that preceded a humorous and heartfelt multimedia program of which she was co-host, along with actor Patrick Stewart. The remark by one of Mr. Kahn's former students set the tone for a night that was a "Tempest" of tributes and incorporated bits of Kennedy Center Honors motifs as well. Costume and prop tableaux from plays he has directed greeted guests along the lengthy passage between event sites. The evening also brought together many from Mr. Kahn's past, either in person or in filmed reminiscences projected on a large screen in the building's auditorium.
"I just hope it's not the end of my career," remarked the Shakespeare Theatre's artistic director and Juilliard drama school head during a wistful moment. He went on to call his past 15 years in Washington the "most interesting" in his life and the "best damn second act in anybody's life."
Twice he praised the city and the Shakespeare Theatre's audiences for being so unexpectedly supportive, apparently above and beyond any others encountered in a career that began in Brooklyn when he directed "Humpty Dumpty" in second grade. (Film clips showed the now bald-pated man as a toddler with the arched eyebrows and the same piercing blue eyes and impish smile.)
In turn, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams praised Mr. Kahn by proclaiming April 6-13 Michael Kahn Week in Washington.
Shakespeare received the highest praise of all from the honoree, who said, he was "the guiding genius of my life. With Shakespeare you never meet the challenge fully. The daily wrestling with a genius makes you a stronger director and a better person and gives you a truly, truly better life."
Asked privately what Shakespeare character he most resembles, Mr. Kahn said, "Hamlet, because I have trouble making up my mind." Qualities he asires to? "To be as sexy as Mark Anthony and as smart as Rosalind. But when I direct a play I feel like all of them."
Publicly, Mr. Kahn confessed how he had nervously approached the Washington job during a free-lance phase of his career, when he felt no one would hire an artistic director in his 40s: "I didn't know I could do it. I had real apprehension about myself as an artist."
Actor Ted van Griethuysen opened the hour-long program with a takeoff on the prologue to "Henry V." Mr. Stewart concluded it by reading a moving selection from "Troilus and Cressida." In between, the 500-member audience saw actress Pat Carroll say on videotape, "By golly, it's about time he (Mr. Kahn) ran the world, don't you think?"
Mr. Kahn has apparently tamed many "shrews" along the way to fame. They include his own shadowy second personality referred to by actress Franchelle Stewart Dorn as "Skippy" who emerges at rehearsals during tension-filled tech week. "Those of us who know him know [when] to avoid him," concurred actress Helen Carey. Robert Linowes, the Shakespeare Theatre's founding chairman, recounted how he had offered Mr. Kahn the job in spite of having heard how "difficult" he was and how "he had trouble keeping within a budget."
"You were never dogmatic; you were never satisfied," noted actor Bradley Whitford on a taped segment from the set of "West Wing." Christopher Reeve, Kevin Kline, Adrienne Kennedy, Kelly McGillis, Terrence McNally, Marian Seldes, Edward Albee and Elizabeth Ashley were also recorded in the show directed by Ethan McSweeny and produced by Beth Hauptle, both formerly on the Shakespeare Theatre's staff.
"All's Well that Ends Well" indeed. An image of Mr. Kahn's smiling face was imprinted on the dessert cookie served at dinner, which was very much an "As You Like It" affair.
Fans and friends among attendees, old and new, included former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who sat beside the honoree at dinner; Art Buchwald; Letitia Baldrige; set designer Ming Cho Lee; actresses Joan van Ark and Sabrina Le Beauf; and Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler.


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