Thursday, June 22, 2006

Michael Feingold profiles actor Alvin Epstein

at the Voice. I had impossibly high expectations for the Actors' Shakespeare Project King Lear at LaMama (aside from everything else, a very dear friend of mine--an old theater partner to boot--did the production design), but I realized as I watched it that I have too strong an idea of the play myself to give myself over to someone else's interpretation. I've taught it four times and read it countless more and I especially have strong opinions about line readings and the delivery of Shakespearean language. (Here's Charles Isherwood's review for the NYT, I don't disagree with it--there were many good things, and how can you go wrong watching a play like this anyway?)

Further thoughts:

1. I saw the Olivier television Lear from the early 1980s at an impressionable age, and it still colors my sense of the play's characters and atmosphere despite a Spinal Tap-ish Stonehenge-type dry ice problem. I haven't seen it since the mid-80s for sure, but in my memory of it Olivier is slightly over-the-top (and very rosy-cheeked) but Diana Rigg as Regan and Leo McKern as Gloucester are absolutely unbeatable. I have too many favorite lines in this play even to think about giving quotations here....

2. There is something quite amazing about seeing Alvin Epstein on a stage. I saw Epstein a year or two ago in the really quite extraordinary production of Endgame at the Irish Rep (he played Nagg), and I found myself thinking at several points during the performance the other night that nothing in this production was as moving as almost everything about that Endgame, and that while I do find Beckett (that play in particular) almost unbearably poignant it is not quite right that the balance should be this way between the two productions. But think of the magical thing about theatrical performance, that quality Joseph Roach just calls "it": something about charisma and personal contact that makes you want to touch the hem of the actor's garments.... Epstein performed with Marcel Marceau, played the Fool to Orson Welles's Lear, played Lucky in the American premiere of Godot and Clov in the American premiere of Endgame. Surely some sort of pollen clings to him, a pollen that will be transmitted to those who act with him or even just experience his performances from the audience? I love performance history. I have this sense too when I teach the eighteenth-century drama lecture at Columbia, of a sort of shadowy exoskeleton of performances that if you concentrate hard enough come to life in a most bodily and material way. It is quite unlike the experience of reading novels.