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Christopher Plummer honoured by Stratford festival


 

A who's who of Canadian stage and screen were in Toronto on Monday to celebrate the career of actor Christopher Plummer.

 

Plummer, 81, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It is the first time the festival has given such an award.

Plummer played his first big role at Stratford – as Henry V – in 1956 and played frequently with the company as his Broadway and film acting career took off. He had a critically acclaimed role in its 2008 production of Caesar and Cleopatra, followed by a turn as Prospero in The Tempest in 2010.“When Chris performs you never know what he's going to do from moment to moment, where he's going to go —there's a dangerous quality to his work that's deeply deeply thrilling,” said Stratford general director Antoni Cimolino.“To play Hamlet, to play Macbeth, to play Prospero, to play King Lear — these are monumental challenges and only someone whose heart belongs to the theatre can rise to meet those challenges,” Cimolino said in an interview before the start of the tribute.The tribute itself featured festival performers reprising some of Plummer’s famous roles, as well as musical tributes to the actor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role of Tolstoy in 2009 film The Last Station.Tickets to the tribute were $1,000 each — the money went to classical and contemporary programming, training and educational outreach at the festival.Veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent also paid tribute to Plummer, whom he worked with at Stratford back in 1962.“The man is extraordinary. He's got so many sides to him. He's quite remarkable and when you share a stage with him it's magic,” Pinsent said.Plummer seemed touched to receive such acclaim from his contemporaries.“This means something special to me because it's from Stratford, that I've known since I was 26 years old. It’s like coming home a bit,” he said.But his trademark wit soon surfaced.“Oh yes, you always feel you're going to die the next day after you're given a lifetime achievement. I've got a lot of lifetime achievements and I'm still alive so to hell with that theory,” he said.Plummer’s career continues strong – the film version of his play Barrymore just opened at the Toronto International Film Festival, he drew praise earlier this year for playing a gay father in Beginners and he will appear later this year in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.“I'm working more now than I did 10 years ago for example, it's just extraordinary. I feel like I'm beginning all over again, it's lovely,” he said.Plummer returns to the Stratford stage next year – with a one-man show based on his favourite literary quotations.
Sep 27, 2011

 

 





























Presented by actor Gordon Pinsent, Christopher Plummer accepts the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala in his honour.





Christopher Plummer in

A Word or Two

 

Directed by Des McAnuff


Avon Theatre

July 25 to August 26, 2012

Opens August 2 

 

Special 60th Season Presentation

About A Word or Two 














One of our greatest classical actors takes us on an autobiographical journey through the literature that has stirred his imagination since youth. From the sacred to the profane, from Stephen Leacock and A.A. Milne to Ben Jonson and the Bible, these selections of poetry and prose reflect a life-long love affair with the written word.


"It's a celebration of language is really what I call it, and how it influenced me from the time I was very young right through my life," 

Plummer says. "Each decade there are poets and prose writers who have influenced me."

Plummer lists some of them, from Stephen Leacock and A.A. Milne to Ben Jonson, Ogden Nash and Rudyard Kipling. The show, which Plummer has previously performed for charity functions, has been sharpened under the direction of Des McAnuff, the artistic director of the Stratford Festival.

"It sort of rides right through my life, from the love interests, to middle age and to death and then back again so that the cycle is complete," says Plummer. "It's really quite personal now. I'm a little bit scared that it's too personal. But it never can be."


"The purpose of A Word or Two is simply to celebrate language which seems to be fast vanishing from our midst,"

"They were terrifically well-read and they taught me at a very young age that reading was not only necessary but it was fun, it was great enjoyment, and great riches can be got from it,"

"Because it's all about words, you don't want to have too many projections, too much melodramatic lighting, because the audience will be distracted,"







"First you're young. Then you're old. Then you're wonderful."

— Alice Roosevelt Longworth
















STRATFORD, Canada — Christopher Plummer is in the wonderful phase of his career — and at 82 he's seizing the opportunity.

In February, the six-decade veteran of 100-plus movies and uncounted opening nights on stage, vaulted back to the top of the heap while becoming the oldest actor to win an Oscar, for his compelling turn as an out-of-the-closet-at-life's-end character in the movie "Beginners."

His first-time win, preceded and followed by a round of engaging talk show appearances, revealed him as a rediscovered resource (a male counterpoint to Betty White perhaps?). The likelihood of a further 15 minutes of octogenarian fame, based on a few additional movie roles showcasing his classically trained skills, seemed probable.

But that would be the predictable path. And Plummer's career — ranging from "The Sound of Music" to virtually every male lead in the Shakespearean canon — has been built on versatility, not predictability. So this month found Plummer at the prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival premiering a self-penned, autobiographical play some 15 years in the making.

"A Word or Two" is a bravura one-man showcase for a few of his favorite things — principally, Plummer's love of language and writing. Onstage at the bucolic Canadian theater complex that originally launched him to stardom, he spent 90 nonstop minutes — lights fade to black for a seeming intermission but immediately snap back on, Plummer wryly saying "welcome back!" — weaving a tale of personal experience and reflection stitched together with recited passages from Lewis Carroll, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and other literary luminaries.

Plummer is dwarfed on stage by a 30-foot helix of books angling up, over and behind him, clearly implying the literary DNA that is the backbone of "A Word or Two." The quotes he has chosen don't support specific anecdotes from his life so much as inform brief ruminations that range thematically from mothers to strippers, jazz to cabaret, religion to death.

Plummer's startling talent at switching personas on a dime — often through mimicry — is also front and center, and even something he makes fun of (on opening night he followed an extended passage delivered in the voice of a wilting Blanche du Bois-esque Southern belle with a verbal aside to the audience: "Why am I talking this way"?)

"They have all become part of me," a relaxed Plummer said the morning after opening night of "A Word or Two," discussing the work in the lounge of the Avon Theatre, where he had unveiled it.

"Reading was a preoccupation since I was young … and an early occupation doing radio dramas," said Plummer, his rich baritone reflecting his decades on stage. "And then my whole life I have been performing the written word so it felt comfortable using these writers and works I love so much in this manner."

With white eyebrows doing calisthenics across his forehead as he accentuated points, but the famed temper ("Oh, I've still got it, all right," he said cheerily, and non-apologetically) nowhere on display, he was thoughtful, animated and, ultimately, charming.

Plummer was born and raised a Canadian outsider of sorts: to an English-speaking family in predominantly French-speaking Montreal. His first appearance in Stratford in 1956 in the title role of Shakespeare's "Henry V," along with a transfer of the production to the Edinburgh Festival that year, rocketed his stage and film career into existence.

In the late '50s through late '60s, he was part of a flamboyant pack of non-American actors whose anglicized backgrounds made them sexy, exotic leads of the time — Plummer was grouped with names like Richard BurtonPeter O'TooleMichael Caine and Richard Harris. As he aged away from leading-man roles, his skill set was strong enough to translate to a career of myriad character roles during the subsequent four decades.

Beginning in the mid-'90s, he first performed a truncated version of "A Word or Two" at occasional private functions or charity benefits. But about 18 months ago, before the Oscar win, he felt it was time to develop the piece into a stageable form.

Director Des McAnuff — known for directing hit musicals "Jersey Boys" and "Tommy" as well as being the artistic director at Stratford and having two stints running the La Jolla Playhouse — received an invitation to visit Plummer's longtime home in Connecticut.

"He did the whole thing for me at his kitchen table," said McAnuff in a separate interview. "It was clear right away it deserved a production."

Stratford is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and Plummer is easily its most celebrated alumnus, so it was a logical starting point. "I always feel I owe this place so much," said Plummer."Also, being Canadian, the chance to support theater here is something that has always been a push for me."

McAnuff explained how the piece was able to migrate to stage worthiness in only a year.

"As an actor, maybe the most important thing is that he is a true changeling," McAnuff said by phone. "He has a great concoction of talent that makes him uniquely able to, in a word or two, become a new character."

 With 20 performances under his belt in a limited run and positive reviews in hand from critics on both sides of the border — including the New York Times, which enthused about the play as "a passionate love letter to language" — Plummer has some ideas, if not hard and fast plans, going ahead.

"If I could find a small theater in New York — the Booth would be fantastic — it could work as a limited run," said Plummer, momentarily turned promoter. "In California, maybe La Jolla, because of the tie with Des. Or the Ahmanson could work — that is a surprisingly intimate house with the right staging and approaches. It was pleasant doing 'Barrymore' there, which was also largely a one-man."

In fact, "Barrymore," the play about the fabled classical actor John Barrymore in his later years, which won Plummer the Tony for actor in a play in 1997, is likely the next thing Southern California audiences will see him in. Plummer reprised the role during a week's worth of stagings in Toronto in late 2010, with the performances filmed and supplemented with exterior footage. A national one-night screening in theaters is aimed to take place in mid-November.

More than 15 years after his initial go at the old rogue, Plummer enjoyed channeling Barrymore again. With a glint in his eye, the actor acknowledged that beverage consumption was a must in resuming the acquaintance, though not to Barrymore-esque heights.

"Oh, God, no," he said. "For one thing, like all alcoholics he neglected to eat well — they consider it as getting in the way of the main event. All my pals, like Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole, they wouldn't eat a scrap of food."

Plummer has considered what makes for a good drunk versus a bad drunk on stage.

"In playing a drinker you have to keep in mind that he always fights to be sober, constantly tries to cut through the distancing that is the pleasure in getting boozed up. So you can't just slur or it becomes a one-note cheap laugh or a cheap bit of sadness."

Beyond "Barrymore," Plummer has a few other film projects in the hopper — "I need to do some film, to remind folks I am still around" — but he is coy about details. Politely, but cagily, he says, "I'm a tiny bit superstitious, or I pretend to be when I need it, to ward off untoward requests."

Asked about what he remembered most about the Oscars whirlwind, the topic again revolved to words.

"The main thing when the attention started to come was my speech," he said. "As I won some run-up awards I realized it was the same bloody audience and I didn't want them yawning at me saying the same thing again and again."

Oscar night: The preoccupation with the speech continued.

"So they start to read the nominees, and you make sure to have your biggest smile stuck on your face, but sitting there I was running through what I was going to say. I heard my name and bounded on up, but, through it all, it was mainly 'Plummer, don't muck up the moment.'"

With one Oscar under his belt, he is reminded that Jason Robards, his pal from their New York theater days, won two. Would it be greedy to want another?

"Enough!" was delivered in a Shakespearean roar. "You could torture yourself forever worrying about things like that," he said, shaking his head, and with a theatrical flourish, waving an arm, "Move on!"

Then he grinned a most wonderful grin.


A life with literature  

“The purpose of A Word or Two is simply to celebrate language which seems to be fast vanishing from our midst," says Mr. Plummer. "It is very much a personal stroll through literature, a literature that has long stirred my imagination and that, for one reason or another, I cannot let go. The poetry and prose I have chosen to accompany my journey is both silly and sad, sacred and profane; ranging from A.A. Milne to the Bible; Shaw and Wilde to Coleridge and Marlowe; W.H. Auden and Nabokov to Rostand and MacLeish; Shakespeare and Byron to Nash and Leacock. It is intended not just to show the myriad of colours words can paint, but to illuminate along the way the several phases of my particular moon.”

Acting as the “good steward” (a.k.a. the director) of this solo piece is Artistic Director Des McAnuff. This is his third collaboration with Mr. Plummer at Stratford. (Their first two projects, Caesar and Cleopatra, in which Mr. Plummer played Julius Caesar, and The Tempest, in which he played Prospero, were both captured on film.

“I love working and spending time with Chris,” says Mr. McAnuff. "He’s a great collaborator. We have a very free-wheeling kind of creative relationship, and so it’s always a great charge to work with him."

A Word or Two praised for passion, grace  

 

Critics have responded to A Word or Two with infectious enthusiasm. 

 

"Christopher Plummer's virtuosity and ability to command a stage have never seemed more secure," says Richard Ouzounian in Variety. “[This] is one of the smoothest, most substantial autobiographical monologues to grace a stage.”  

 

“The show is both strikingly intimate and dignified,” says Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune, with J. Kelly Nestruck of The Globe and Mail adding that the production has "plenty to enjoy.”

 

"Plummer’s love of words is as obvious as it is intoxicating,” writes Robert Reid in The Record. "[A Word or Two is] wondrous to behold."


Christopher Plummer declared from the stage his intention to approach his death just like Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, who, Plummer said, was the very best model out there for how to deal with the inevitable arrival of that particular dark stranger:

“I will be as a bridegroom in my death, and run into’t as to a lover’s bed.”


Christopher Plummer shares a Word or Two in Ouzounian’s Big Interview

  

STRATFORD—Christopher Plummer’s life is an open book. Literally.

It isn’t enough that he’s given hundreds of interviews over the past few years, or written a very revealing autobiography (titled In Spite of Myself), but he’s now, letting it all hang out — from a literary point of view — on stage.

On Aug. 2, he opened A Word or Two at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a one-man show in which his lifelong love with literature serves as a framework for him to tell still more about his 82 years on earth.

“An intellectual biography?” Plummer hoots over that description of the show. “Intellectual is a rather frightening word, one I choose to stay away from. But it is, very definitely, an autobiography.”

Slowly unwinding after a sold-out matinee preview which ended with a thunderous standing ovation, Plummer in repose still retains that saturnine elegance that’s been his professional calling card for decades.

And while he remains the warmly co-operative interview subject he’s always been, he doesn’t want to reveal too many specifics about this project.

“Like a lover, this show has its secrets and if you give them all away too soon, then where’s the mystery? Where’s the attraction?

“I will tell you this: it begins and ends with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is a perfect framing device. All the characters can speak to you and through you and it lets you know this is a world where anything can happen.”

The particular rabbit hole that Plummer fell through at a very early age was the elegant home just outside of Montreal where he spent his youth.

“My family had this old-fashioned, rather Victorian custom of gathering together and reading out loud after dinner. It was actually very attractive.

“We would sit around and take turns reading all these great works of literature, of course, with a family like mine, you didn’t just read them, you performed them.”

Plummer laughs, recalling these formative moments that spurred him on, indirectly, to a career when he has frequently been hailed as the finest living actor of his generation and he earned the distinction earlier this year of becoming the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award.

“’Words, words, words,’” says Plummer, quoting Hamlet. “This play is all about the first time a young person was influenced by words and how it changed his life. You could say that I grew up every decade of my life with literature. In fact, literature made me grow up.”

And while Plummer’s family were responsible for his initial love of reading and what it meant, it was a little later that he grew familiar with the particular author who would truly bend his destiny.

“I had an English teacher at school who made us get up and do all the parts of the Shakespeare play we were studying, which immediately made us love the play instead of hating the author. You were acting it, you were a part of it.”

Plummer acknowledges that there will be some Shakespeare in A Word or Two (“It would be a criminal offence if I didn’t!”), but he’s rationing out the amount.

“They’re so saturated with Shakespeare here I wanted to avoid too much of it. Give him a chance but not let him run wild.”

Instead, there is a wide variety of authors represented. Not just those Plummer has performed on stage (like Edmond Rostand and his Cyrano de Bergerac), but poets he admires (W.H. Auden) and novelists he reveres (Vladimir Nabokov).

“I was reminded again how much I love Nabokov and I started to wish I’d done a little bit more of him, but then I’d want to do a little bit more of everybody and the show would run five hours. Oh my God, no! I have a horror of things running too long. This comes in just under 90 minutes, which is a fine length for both me and the audience.”

Obviously an actor like Plummer just doesn’t wake up one morning and say “Oh, let me compile a one-man show of my favourite authors,” so where did this piece come from?

He smiles slyly. “I actually did this first in the 1980s for a library near where I live in Connecticut that was trying to raise some money. They wanted to build an addition for classical volumes, so they asked me if I would give a lecture.”

That trumpet call of a voice rings out in mocking laughter. “A lecture? Me? I said to them, ‘Not a lecture, God forbid! But I would love to talk about words and how much they mean to me.’”

This initial version was less than a half hour, but the overall effect pleased Plummer so much he filed it away in his memory.

Over the next few decades, he did more experiments with verbal presentations, including his wildly successful package of speeches from Henry V that he does with symphony orchestras around North America, matching it to William Walton’s score from the Laurence Olivier film version.

But he makes it clear A Word or Two has nothing like that happening.

“No, no, no, once you release that glorious torrent of music, you have to perform at a totally different level and that’s a level which doesn’t suit a lot of the delicacy of this material.

“There is music in the show, but very little and very subtle. I love performing with a symphony orchestra, though. It brings me closer to what I really wanted to be, which is a concert pianist.”

It was a little more than a year ago that Stratford’s departing Artistic Director, Des McAnuff, asked Plummer if he had any kind of intimate project that he wanted to do and that’s when he recalled his presentation at the Connecticut library.

“Des asked me to do it for him simply, sitting around his kitchen table, so that’s just what I did. He liked it and so here we are.”

The Plummer/McAnuff partnership has yielded rich rewards for Stratford, with productions such as Caesar and Cleopatra and The Tempest filling houses during the theatre season and then providing the basis of films that have garnered wide acclaim elsewhere.

“I think Des is a terrific director,” Plummer enthuses. “He takes risks and I like to take risks as well, so we’re well suited to each other. Sometimes he goes a little overboard and I say ‘Whoa!’ or vice versa.”

But Plummer feels that McAnuff’s major contribution has been in putting a truly human face on these potentially literary pieces.

“Des kept pushing me saying I had to be more personal, but I didn’t want to make it sound personal in a conceited way. I wanted it to be self-deprecating. But he kept pushing me to reveal the truth. And now, I really feel like I’m talking directly to the audience.”

When asked if he discovered anything about himself working on this piece, Plummer simply shakes his head.

“I’d already discovered myself a long time ago. But I was able to draw on myself and I was grateful, for once, that I was old. I didn’t have to imagine experiences. I’d had them all!

“Youth, love, middle age, then death. Right from love to middle age? Well, sometimes it feels like that’s how it happened.

“And death? I’ve done it so often on stage and screen that when the real thing finally does come, I think I’ll know how to behave.”


Christopher Plummer's Solo Show A Word or Two, Taking a Page From His Lifelong Love of Books, Opens in Canada

 

"Word, words, words." Hamlet loved them, and so does Christopher Plummer. The Oscar and Tony Award-winning octagenarian actor explores a few of his favorite literary things in a new solo show, A Word or Two, opening Aug. 2 following previews from July 25 at the Stratford Festival in Canada. Artistic director and Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, The Who's Tommy) directs the personal play about the actor's love of literature and how books shaped him.  

The evening at the festival's Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, touches on A.A. Milne, the Bible, Shaw, Wilde, Coleridge, Marlowe, W.H. Auden, Nabokov, Rostand, MacLeish, Shakespeare, Byron, Nash and Leacock — and more. It is written, arranged and performed by the Academy Award-winning ("Beginners") and Tony Award-winning (Barrymore) actor.

Performances at the proscenium Avon run (in rep) to Aug. 26.

Of the pieces included in a Word or Two, Plummer told Playbill.com, "Some are silly, some great, some funny, some extraordinary, some classical. There's a huge variety of stuff there, and I enjoy myself thoroughly because I love the words of each character. I have fun and try to make it as funny as I can because, when the serious stuff does appear, the audience is sorta ready for it."  

Plummer's point? "I suppose the main theme in it — which I don't hit over the head very hard, thank God! — is the fact that, in this day and age, young people in particular are losing the chance to really appreciate what great literature is... Books are disappearing. Parents should take care that they let their children know at a certain young age how wonderful and great our language is and what fun it is.

"My parents were marvelous. I was very lucky — I grew up in a very well-read home — and we were taught the value of books. Our family used to read aloud to each other sometimes after dinner. It was kind of an old Victorian custom, and it was great to be a part of that. They taught me reading could be fun as well as enriching."

McAnuff previously directed Plummer — a longtime veteran of the festival, since its early days — in Stratford's Caesar and Cleopatra, in which Plummer played Julius Caesar, and The Tempest, in which he played Prospero; the stagings were also preserved on film. Barrymore had a pre-Broadway tryout at Stratford, as well.

The artistic team for A Word or Two includes set designer Robert Brill, lighting designer Michael Walton, composer Michael Roth, video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis, sound designer Peter McBoyle and costume consultant Paul Tazewell.
















Have a 'Word' with Christopher Plummer 

 Sure, the Oscar Christopher Plummer won back in February for “Beginners” has brought some bustle to his life, but truth be told, that's a normal state of affairs for the 82-year-old actor. A look at his resume reveals that he's been doing more film, TV and theater work over the past decade than many actors one-third his age.

“Life is exactly the same,” says Plummer, who sounds as clipped and dashing during a phone interview as he does onstage. “The Oscar does give you more first-class scripts to read, so in that respect, it does a great service. Basically I love movies. I love the theater. I just love great roles.”

Plummer's new one-man show, “A Word or Two,” brings the Toronto- born Plummer full circle at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where he worked frequently in the 1950s and 1960s. He starred in critically acclaimed productions of “Caesar and Cleopatra” in 2008 and “The Tempest” in 2010.

“I feel like I've had several careers,” he says. “Now I'm on the brink of another one in my 80s.”

“A Word or Two” is a roughly 90-minute show, without intermission, in which Plummer recalls literary works that have inspired him since he was a child. He takes on a number of personages and characters. “You're always changing your voice to suit the material, so there's a lot of variety,” he says of the show.

Plummer had been performing versions of “A Word or Two” for the past couple of decades, usually for single-night charity events, but only recently began to consider turning it into “a bit more of a production.” Des McAnuff, Stratford's artistic director, got wind of the idea and thought it would work at the festival.

“I did it for him in my kitchen. Talk about a captive audience,” Plummer recalls with a laugh. “He encouraged me to get it even more personal, to help the audience associate with it even more.”  

And exactly what literary works is he bringing to the stage for the show?

“I'm trying to be a little secretive about it,” the actor says, “but it goes from the Bible to ‘Winnie the Pooh' to Rudyard Kipling. And there are contemporary poets, at least relatively contemporary, like W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin.”

And, of course, there is Shakespeare, a playwright with whom Plummer was well-acquainted by the time he was 14. “My family was extremely well-read,” he says. “They made me have fun reading and acting out all the parts. If I could play all the characters, then I'd feel closer to them.

“Kids today are led to believe that literature is scary, and parents are not taking the trouble to inspire them and show them that language is part of their heritage. The magic of words has everything to do with the imagination, and without the imagination, we'd all look the same and become very ordinary indeed.”

In approaching “A Word or Two,” Plummer and director McAnuff agreed to keep the design simple, yet they also realized that the show must register with the 1,090 viewers expected to fill Stratford's Avon Theatre for each performance.

“Because it's all about words, you don't want to have too many projections, too much melodramatic lighting, because the audience will be distracted,” Plummer says.

“Des has done this in extremely subtle and clever ways. I don't think I'm going to spoil anything to say that there's even some music where it's needed to further the ‘plot.' I just hope to God that it will work.”

 

64 years on stage

 

Plummer was still a teenager in 1948 when he joined the Canadian Repertory Company, where he took on an estimated 75 roles. He made his Stratford debut in 1956, playing the title role in “Henry V,” before returning to the fest off and on throughout the 1960s.

Few actors have managed to juggle careers in theater, film (“The Sound of Music,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and TV (“Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Thorn Birds”) so successfully. Plummer, the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar, already had scored two Emmys and two Tonys before being named best supporting actor at this year's Academy Awards. He was nominated for the same award two years earlier for “The Last Station.”

 

“Henry V” remains a work that holds special significance for the actor. It was Laurence Olivier's 1944 film version that proved to him the power of theater on film. More recently, he has helped adapt and narrate an orchestral work inspired by “Henry V” and taken it around the world. He gives high marks to Stratford for its 2012 production.

“I saw it last night. It's one of the best company shows I've seen here in a long time. All the actors are good and the staging is wonderful.”

 

‘Not my cup of tea'

 

“Why? Why? Why?” Plummer cries in mock agony when the subject turns to his role as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” the sugary-but- beloved 1965 movie musical that costarred Julie Andrews and a bunch of singing kids. The actor once famously referred to it as “The Sound of Mucus,” but has recently been much kinder.

“I'm not blaming the movie. It's just not my cup of tea,” he says. “I understand that it's a family picture, and there are no family pictures anymore.

“Before, I used to get asked only about ‘The Sound of Music.' People didn't go to interesting cinema. They would only go to the cinema blockbusters, i.e. ‘Transformers' and ‘The Sound of Music.' But today people are more interested in independent films than they used to be. That's where the great work is being done.”



A Word or Two with Christopher Plummer 

I was very fortunate this week to see Christopher Plummer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in his one-man show, A Word or Two. It's in previews now, opening next week -- and the entire run is nearly sold out already!

For good reason: this show is fantastic. It's a tour de force, a bravura performance, a signature piece that dazzles and amuses. I hope that is enough over the top gushing to convince you to look into any remaining availability if you're anywhere near Stratford.

The premise of the approximately hour and a half show is Christopher Plummer sharing the trajectory of his life with us, through the lens of the liteature that has shaped him. He shares excerpts of works by A.A. Milne, Stephen Leacock, Archibald Macleish, the Bible, Oscar Wilde, and much more, interspersed with tales of his life. The fantastic thing is, of course, that he is using various accents, gestures and movements to express each one and it feels as if he's performing a lightning-speed sample of everything that he is capable of doing.....which is a whole lot! There is also a lot of humour in the excerpts he reads and in his own life stories, making the show fly by. I really liked the structure of the show -- from childhood to the present, it was neatly segmented to hold the audience's attention and also signal how far along we were in the tale.

As a literary person myself, I enjoyed catching the references to various authors, and hearing how they shaped and affected Plummer throughout his life. I also enjoyed his stories of growing up in Montreal, as I spent many years living there. It all comes together into a marvellous show, one that I would definitely see again if it were actually possible ;) He mesmerizes the audience with his lengthy, energetic monologue -- literally, as I didn't move for the entire show and felt it when we all jumped up for an ovation! 

It was a lovely reflection on the power of literature and of words themselves to inspire and inform and shape one's life. Poems and prose read out and/or declaimed by Plummer were wonderful to listen to -- that voice! It encouraged me to reflect on the writers and works that have affected me over my own lengthy reading life, as well as inspire me to revisit some authors I'd forgotten (Archibald Macleish, for example). I had a great time at this show -- it was entertaining, fascinating, stimulating and enlivening.

Very highly recommended -- I hope that he will indeed take this show to the West Coast and to Broadway as it's been rumoured he might -- and I also hope that it will be filmed so that there can be a wider audience. This is too good to miss.


Christopher Plummer's Solo Show A Word or Two, Taking a Page From His Lifelong Love of Books, Opens in Canada

 

"Word, words, words." Hamlet loved them, and so does Christopher Plummer. The Oscar and Tony Award-winning octagenarian actor explores a few of his favorite literary things in a new solo show, A Word or Two, opening Aug. 2 following previews from July 25 at the Stratford Festival in Canada. Artistic director and Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, The Who's Tommy) directs the personal play about the actor's love of literature and how books shaped him.

The evening at the festival's Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, touches on A.A. Milne, the Bible, Shaw, Wilde, Coleridge, Marlowe, W.H. Auden, Nabokov, Rostand, MacLeish, Shakespeare, Byron, Nash and Leacock — and more. It is written, arranged and performed by the Academy Award-winning ("Beginners") and Tony Award-winning (Barrymore) actor.

Performances at the proscenium Avon run (in rep) to Aug. 26.

Of the pieces included in a Word or Two, Plummer told Playbill.com, "Some are silly, some great, some funny, some extraordinary, some classical. There's a huge variety of stuff there, and I enjoy myself thoroughly because I love the words of each character. I have fun and try to make it as funny as I can because, when the serious stuff does appear, the audience is sorta ready for it."

Plummer's point? "I suppose the main theme in it — which I don't hit over the head very hard, thank God! — is the fact that, in this day and age, young people in particular are losing the chance to really appreciate what great literature is... Books are disappearing. Parents should take care that they let their children know at a certain young age how wonderful and great our language is and what fun it is.

"My parents were marvelous. I was very lucky — I grew up in a very well-read home — and we were taught the value of books. Our family used to read aloud to each other sometimes after dinner. It was kind of an old Victorian custom, and it was great to be a part of that. They taught me reading could be fun as well as enriching."

McAnuff previously directed Plummer — a longtime veteran of the festival, since its early days — in Stratford's Caesar and Cleopatra, in which Plummer played Julius Caesar, and The Tempest, in which he played Prospero; the stagings were also preserved on film. Barrymore had a pre-Broadway tryout at Stratford, as well.

 

The artistic team for A Word or Two includes set designer Robert Brill, lighting designer Michael Walton, composer Michael Roth, video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis, sound designer Peter McBoyle and costume consultant Paul Tazewell.


CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: THE ONE-MAN ACT

The Oscar-winning actor releases his inner book nerd in the one-man Stratford Shakespeare Festival show A Word for Two. 


Plummer on Plummer—and everything else: 

 

The best bons mots from the actor's autobiography, In Spite of Myself

  

ON GROWING UP WITH PRIVILEGE

"In the beginning, I had no struggle; I didn't know what it meant. Not exactly coming from the streets, there was no urgent need to improve, no clear path up which to climb." 

 

ON MAKING A TOUGH DECISION

"There was only one thing that was going to make me forget this mess — I had to get laid!"

 

 ON HIS BIRTHPLACE 

"Now Toronto in the late '40s was about the dullest city on this planet. You really did have to go to Buffalo to have fun." 

 

 ON HIS CHOICE OF JOB

"The theatre is not for sissies. It separates the men from the boys."

 

ON DEATH

"It is not so much the fear of dying that disturbs me but the sudden awareness that I've just begun to live and how dreadfully I'm going to miss it all when I'm gone."

   

A Word or Two review: Bow gratefully to Christopher Plummer

Written, arranged and performed by Christopher Plummer. Directed by Des McAnuff. Until Aug. 26 at the Avon Theatre. 1-800-567-1600

STRATFORD, ONT.—You don’t review a show like Christopher Plummer’s A Word or Two, which opened Thursday night at the Stratford Festival. You simply bow gratefully, say “Thank you, Mr. Plummer,” and urge everyone reading this to buy tickets as rapidly as possible.

Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to spend 90 minutes in the company of the finest actor of his time, hearing a dazzling store of literary gems while gaining an insight into the man? Well, that is what’s in store for you in this silky smooth, yet deceptively moving piece.

The premise is simple. Plummer will tell us about his life through the books, plays and poems he has loved and performed during his life.

Against a gravity-defying stack of books, courtesy of Robert Brill, lit with care by Michael Walton and accompanied by wonderfully subtle music by Michael Roth, this 82-year-old national treasure starts as Louis Carroll’s “Aged, Aged Man” and proceeds to take us on a whirlwind tour of his fascinating existence and the authors who have accompanied it.

The miracle is watching the dexterity with which Plummer shifts accents, postures, aged and moods in the flickering of an eye.

W.H. Auden’s Herod, presented here as the epicene brother of Truman Capote? Check. The “Song of Solomon,” rendered with the full-blooded passion of a Renaissance lover? Got it.

But then there’s his more subtle, almost invisible transformations. He’s well into Robert Frost’s amazing “Birches,” before you realize that he’s truly turned into a New England farmer, crusty yet friendly all at once.

He gives us a simple selection from Shakespeare, but makes sure it’s memorable. A Hamlet blazing with the need to act, but frustrated his inability to commit and an Othello who suddenly sees the dazzling downward spiral his jealousy has taken him on.

Plummer loves to entertain and there is charm and laughter a-plenty in this piece, but there’s an interesting thing to note near the top.

He performs speeches by both the devil and Don Juan from Shaw’s epic Man and Superman. While the “good” Don Juan is persuasive, Plummer is even more convincing as the devil. You come to realize, in fact, that he’s most comfortable on the dark side.

And I wouldn’t trade a single moment of the final sequences where Plummer looks at death with curiosity, apprehension and — finally — acceptance.

All of this is in the final speech from Cyrano de Bergerac, where Plummer dances with the devil, fences with the dark master, defies Lucifer and stands up for the graces he believes in, doing all of this with elegance, grace and a joyous bilingual delivery of the lines.

You owe it to yourself to see A Word or Two, just for the experience of that speech, a great artist with great material still at the height of his powers.

“When comes such another?” asks Marc Antony of Caesar. I would say the same about Christopher Plummer.

  

Words of wisdom: Plummer offers his memoir in ‘A Word or Two’

 

STRATFORD, Ont. — With the recent and gala opening of Christopher Plummer’s very personal memoir of his life and times — in and out of the theater — Canada’s Stratford Festival’s 2012 slate of 14 plays is complete, with many of the major shows set to continue into late October.

The 90-minute Plummer work, “A Word or Two,” has been revised and mounted comfortably at the Avon Theatre. It’s a tribute to literature, word magic that the award-winning actor and bon vivant has worshipped since childhood, when nightly group reading by his family was a ritual. Lewis Carroll was a favorite. Not just “Alice in Wonderland,” but the Carroll poem “Aged, Aged Man.” The first line of that poem is “I’ll tell you everything I can.” That’s a place to start for his “A Word or Two.”

A podium. A chair here and there. A table, papers and books opened and scattered. In the background, set designer Robert Brill has assembled an eye-popping rising spiral of books, hundreds of them heading off into infinity. Plummer moves about, tells of his childhood in Montreal, his early exposure to all things arty, his attraction to the stage, his insatiable reading habits (W. H. Auden, A.A. Milne, the Bible, Shaw and Wilde, Coleridge and Marlowe, Frost, Shakespeare, Edmund Rostand, Archibald MacLeish, the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock and an endless list of others).

He excerpts and reads passages, slips into character for some of them — Auden’s campy high priest Herod, Shaw’s Devil from “Don Juan in Hell” — dialects come and go, gaits change, moods alter, all swiftly with, well, a word or two, connections and tangents found and adapted.

Plummer never met an epigram he didn’t like, or a pun. He’s quick with a one-liner or an acid aside even a song or two, some in French — apparently Quebecois bawdy tunes judging by the reaction of some bilinguals in the audience — and he is a master storyteller. He has worked with nearly everyone during a six-decade career (Buffalo’s famous acting diva, Katherine Cornell, was once a mentor), so details, albeit brief, can tease.

Near the end of “A Word or Two,” Plummer gets a bit darker, commenting on death. “It doesn’t take a holiday,” he notes. He’s 83. His acceptance speech at the recent Oscars, speaking to the statuette — he was the oldest actor ever to win one — began with “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?” And so, there is the thought of the inevitable. With that, there is a thoughtful rendering of Cyrano de Bergerac’s famous death speech. Charm, wonder, misty eyes. A fitting end to the night.

 

Christopher Plummer shines in A Word or Two

 

Christopher Plummer has the devil’s own charm. He has plenty of other accomplishments as well, of course, but even if he didn’t it would be hard to resist the overwhelming casualness with which he takes his place on stage at the beginning of his new one-man show at Stratford.

He walks unassumingly on, then sits down on a pile of books. More precisely, he sits on one of the lower promontories of the leaning tower of tomes, arching upwards and backwards toward the stage ceiling that is the main feature of Robert Brill’s elegant — and in its way eloquent — set. There’s an unspoken humorous conspiracy between the actor and the audience. He’s both heightening and defusing expectation, inviting us to make ourselves at home while leaving us in no doubt that he’s the host. He exudes self-deprecation and self-assurance simultaneously, making each a vital component of the other. Essentially, he’s saying, “here I am” and smiling while doing it.

 

A Word or Two is, or purports to be, an autobiographical anthology. Plummer performs some prized passages of verse and prose (the verse predominates) and tells us why they are important to him. These, to quote a text with which he remains rather closely associated, are a few of his favourite things.

At 82, Plummer remains — is indeed more than ever — Canada’s premier actor: a position, it’s sobering to recall, that he has held for more than half a century, or ever since 1956, when he made his Stratford debut as Henry V in a festival theatre that was still a tent. Greatness is a matter of timing as well as talent, and Plummer’s career has been rich in both, and continues to be, given his late-life Oscar-winning status.

He’s an old-school bravura romantic actor, with an ironic touch that has kept him permanently modern. He emerged as Canada’s young Shakespearean star, just when the country needed one, and he has managed to preserve both his Canadian and theatrical identities even while working largely in other countries and other media. It’s only in recent years that he’s come back to the Stratford stage with any regularity, but there’s always been the feeling that he’d be there when it needed him and vice versa.

Plummer says surprisingly little in this show about his acting career and accomplishments: Maybe he feels it isn’t his place.

The autobiographical part of the evening is heavily weighted toward his childhood in Montreal; as we get past that, we increasingly lose touch with personal details. He talks about his mother and other relatives, and about the jazz, cabaret and striptease performers he saw in his youth. But he doesn’t make much personal or philosophical connection between his various enthusiasms and the extracts he chooses.

He does make something of a statement about his love of language (two languages, in fact) and how he fears this may be becoming obsolete. (I think it’s form, rather than language itself, that we’re losing touch with, but that’s a topic for another day.) It seems that he, like many fortunate others, was first turned on to words by reading Lewis Carroll. He says, for him, the touchstone was the White Knight’s poem in Through the Looking-Glass about “the aged, aged man, a-sitting on a gate.” He quotes it at the start of the show and recurs to it frequently thereafter, sometimes pronouncing “aged” with one syllable, which doesn’t fit the metre, and sometimes with two, which does.

The title derives from Othello: “Soft you, a word or two before you go.” Plummer doesn’t actually speak the line here, but he does deliver, thrillingly, the speech that it heralds, the Moor’s last oration, about loving not wisely but too well; it’s a part he should have played. More seriously valedictory, perhaps, is his bilingual rendition of the death of Cyrano de Bergerac: a part he has played. Two treatments of martial defiance in extremis, attended by a brief word on how he himself feels about death (he’s afraid of it, but makes a joke of saying so) that, again, go by too fast to really tell us anything. Besides, he’s an actor, not an actuary, and still demonstrably at the top of his game.

That being so, it’s best to enjoy each of his samples as it comes: his portrayal of an epicene Herod, as imagined by W.H. Auden, explaining the absolute necessity of massacring all those innocents; his countryman’s sympathy with Robert Frost on the subject of fences; his joyous rendition, which I wish had gone on longer, of Stephen Leacock in what now sounds like a pre-emptive parody of Downton Abbey; his accounting of Drunken Poets I Have Known, with Dylan Thomas at their head.

The diabolic charm takes definitive form when he becomes the Devil himself, declaiming his denunciation of human destructiveness in Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell. He plays Juan, too, but this is one occasion on which the devil definitely has the best tunes.

These are all jewels, but there isn’t much of a string. Des McAnuff directs the show with taste and discretion, apart from having music playing under some of the purpler passages. It’s a crutch that Plummer doesn’t need; he can make his own moods. We do, though, lose sight of the man behind the masks; which wouldn’t matter if the show didn’t make such an implicit claim to the contrary.

It’s strange, too, because in his published autobiography In Spite of Myself, Plummer creates a very convincing picture of swagger tempered by shyness. There’s only a faint echo of that here; maybe he can reveal himself — or an image of himself — more completely on the page than the stage, precisely because the latter is his natural métier. Or maybe there just isn’t the time.

The shyness, for all his surface joviality, has a touch of embarrassment about it, as if Plummer knows that the actor’s task is to reveal himself not directly but through other people and can’t wait to get to the next character. Which he does; he doesn’t just recite the pieces he’s chosen, he acts them; more tactfully, but also more full-bloodedly, than actors in such circumstances usually do. What’s his next full-length role going to be?

 

Plummer’s love of words is as obvious as it is intoxicating

 

STRATFORD — Christopher Plummer is extending his personal congratulations to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in honour of its 60th anniversary with his one-man show in praise of language.

A Word or Two opened Thursday to a warmly enthusiastic audience at the Avon Theatre.

Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, the show, which is written and arranged by Plummer, is simple in design and execution — but wondrous to behold.

Although he has performed the piece at various fundraisers for the arts, he revised A Word or Two for Stratford.

Plummer takes us on a brisk walk through his life, illuminating the way with passages of poetry and prose from some of his favourite writers.

As he rushes through his painfully shy childhood, awkward adolescence, robust lusting and boozing en route to mid-life crisis and old age, he takes obvious delight in poking fun at his foibles.

The literature he recites spans the spectrum of human experience and reflects its accompanying emotions.

His literary choices are highly selective, from Robert Service and Stephen Leacock through Archibald MacLeish, W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas, the latter two of whom the Oscar-winning actor met over a full and rich 83 years.

There is Shakespeare, Marlowe and G.B. Shaw among playwrights, Lewis Carroll and A.A. Milne among children’s authors and the Song of Songs from “the Great Book.”

Guided by director Des McAnuff, Plummer uses a few props including a cane, fan and pair of sunglasses. Otherwise, he either sits or walks about the stage.

He sometimes employs various English accents, sings snippets from a couple of popular Québécois folk songs (including En Roulant Ma Boule Roulant and A La Claire Fontaine) and reserves his most profane comments after he turns to French.

Plummer’s love of words is as obvious at it is intoxicating. Listening to him bring words to aural life, whether serious or silly, joyous or sad, sacred or profane, is a wonderful experience for anyone who shares the actor’s passion.

His reading of Robert Frost’s Birches is spine-tingling.

Robert Brill’s set is a marvel of simplicity — an inverted tornado or stairway to heaven of books, a few birch trees off to one side and a circular window frame high on the other side.

The backdrop mirrors the stage, until video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis transforms the backdrop, first, into a forest of trees and, then, into a forest of white elegant words.

Michael Roth’s subtle score occasionally underscores the words, but isn’t really necessary.

The late Robertson Davies used to talk with affection and insight about performers as hams. Wherever the old, fantastical man of letters is sitting now, you can be sure he is wearing a broad smile as he casts his eye on one of our greatest actors celebrating the soul of his art.

 

Christopher Plummer's Latest: One for the Books

 

Growing up in Montreal, Christopher Plummer spent much of his time reading—Shakespeare and great hunks of Ben Jonson, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne and others.

 

Now 82 and still a force on stage and screen—Mr. Plummer won an Academy Award this year for his performance as a late-blooming gay man in "Beginners"—he shares his lifelong love of literature and those who write it in "A Word or Two," an autobiographical solo show that opens Thursday at his beloved Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.

 

"My parents were very well-read, and made literature quite an adventure for me," he says in his trademark velvet baritone. "I think that's the way all families should treat their youngsters, showing them what joys, what wonders literature can give us."

 

Directed by Broadway veteran Des McAnuff, "A Word or Two" features excerpts from the actor's favorite works by the above-mentioned authors, as well as Lord Byron, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock and others.

 

The need to preserve literature and language, Mr. Plummer adds, is an underlying theme: "I don't hit it over the head—there are a lot of laughs—but I do remind the audience that in this Twitter universe we live in, some things are disappearing fast. One of them is our language, which has such power, variety, romance and beauty, but which is now increasingly ignored, sadly."

  

Playbill.com

 

At the Stratford Festival in Canada, Christopher Plummer explored his love of language and books in a new solo show, A Word or Two, with Des McAnuff directing. The evening at the festival's Avon Theatre touches on Milne, the Bible, Shaw, Wilde, Coleridge, Marlowe, Auden, Nabokov, Rostand, MacLeish, Shakespeare, Byron, Nash and Leacock.

                         

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two.

photo by David Hou

The Chicago Tribune praised it as "a deft mix of structure-enhancing musicality and simple restraint and themed around Plummer's life-long obsession with words. In the more conventional early sections drawing from Plummer's early life in Toronto and Montreal, it suggests the kind of solo show that many workaholic older actors like to have in their trunks and that can be easily trotted out in fallow months." However, the paper added, "None of this, of course, would have the same power were not Plummer so formidable a performer,… The show is both strikingly intimate and, well, slightly stiff and dignified. It is Christopher Plummer, after all."

 

The Toronto Star, however, didn't have any reservations: "You don't review a show like Christopher Plummer's A Word or Two. You simply bow gratefully, say 'Thank you, Mr. Plummer,' and urge everyone reading this to buy tickets as rapidly as possible. Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to spend 90 minutes in the company of the finest actor of his time, hearing a dazzling store of literary gems while gaining an insight into the man? Well, that is what’s in store for you in this silky smooth, yet deceptively moving piece."

  

A Word or Three About Plummer’s Charm

 

A woman should always carry tissue in her handbag.

 

It was glaringly obvious I did not follow such advice when I took my summer clutch with me to see Christopher Plummer in “A Word Or Two” at the Avon Theatre Wednesday night. For, not more than 30 seconds after the lights came up on this celebrated old-school romantic, I was a blubbering fool, desperate for something to dab the tears dripping from my jaw line.

 

Here, just metres away from me, was THE Christopher Plummer – silky smooth, oozing in good looks in a blue velvet jacket – reciting a passage from Lewis Caroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” while sitting on a leaning tower of books. What more does a girl need, really?

 

“I’ll tell thee everything I can;

There’s little to relate.

I saw an aged, aged man,

A-sitting on a gate.

“Who are you, aged man?” I said,

” And how is it you live?”

And his answer trickled through my head

like water through a sieve.”

 

Then he told us about his love of language and how he fears this may be becoming obsolete. That’s about when the flood gates opened up and the patrons around me were sure I was suffering from some sort of ragweed allergy. Damn it, I needed a Kleenex! The sleeve of my white cardigan was the unlucky alternative.

 

Yes, we all know Plummer has an Oscar, but it’s not just his accomplishments as an actor that get me choked up. His voice is a Beethoven symphony. He also recited passages in french! When he smiled, he looked so much younger than his 82 years.  He didn’t mind making fun of himself or his family either: “When I grew up I wanted to be an orphan!”  He also has a delicious dark side. His diabolic charm took form when he played the role of the devil with a sword during a reading by George Bernard Shaw. These were all the ingredients needed to make this 40-something swoon.  And cry.










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