Monday, January 25, 2010

Wisey Best Actor: Charles Leggett, Shylock, Merchant of Venice

The nominees for Best Actor are:

Charles Leggett, The Merchant of Venice, Seattle Shakespeare Company
Michael Winters, The Tempest, Seattle Shakespeare Company
Jonathan Haugen, Equivocation, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Brandon Whitehead, A Confederacy of Dunces, Book-It Repertory Theatre
Allen Fitzpatrick, Opus, Seattle Repertory Theatre
Mark Fullerton, Mr. Jibbers, 14/48 The World's Quickest Theater Festival

This really is impossible. How do you choose among such stellar performances? Between performances so vivid nearly a year later?

After the fun of remembering and reflecting on such wonderful performances for a few weeks, we finally settled on Charles Leggett for best actor for bringing Shylock to life in Seattle Shakespeare Company's The Merchant of Venice. His portrayal was extraordinary: Shylock as lugubrious, careful, bold, and sharply aware of the hostile society around him. Leggett's performance was restrained and subtle, showing us the steady chafing of Shylock's emotions, a raw, old sore that won't heal. He captured Shylock's contradictions—his resolve and his bewilderment. Leggett can communicate volumes without seeming to do anything. Except maybe something with his eyebrows. Even more than the words I remember his face and eyes as Shylock struggles and fails to find terms on which to engage his society.

OK, we're taking liberties here. Technically, Jonathan Haugen's role is probably supporting to Anthony Heald's lead as Shagspeare in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Equivocation (we also saw the OSF production reprised at the Seattle Rep). But we argue that this is really Haugen's play. The entire ensemble cast is strong, no one disappoints, and Heald turns in yet another magnificent performance. However, Haugen's malevolent, calculating, and sometimes pitiful Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley drives the play. Sometimes the antagonist is the larger-than-life character. In addition, Haugen has to switch on a dime between characters throughout the play, and he does so flawlessly, sharply, his entire body changing into the character instantly. So impressive.

We're glad Brandon Whitehead survived playing Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces at Book-It. Between the bad luck that has dodged actors slated for a movie version (Belushi, Candy, Farley, all dead), the number of hot dogs he had to chow down, and the fire alarm interrupting the performance we saw, it looked a little dicey. But he survived and triumphed. Whitehead is a comedic genius, no doubt about it. He played quirky, eccentric, self-absorbed, and oblivious perfectly, without ever breaking stride (almost not even for the fire alarm). He nailed the dignity that makes Ignatius' outrageousness touching—and even funnier.

Michael Winters is a giant of the stage, and was alternately a lion and a pussy cat treading the boards as Prospero in Seattle Shakespeare Company's The Tempest. A big part of the delight was the magic between him and best supporting actress Hana Lass's Ariel: chemistry, timing, skill, practice...whatever all it is, it's wonderful. We can't wait to see him as Big Daddy in Cat at OSF later this year.

Allen Fitzpatrick played Elliot in Opus at Seattle Repertory Theatre; a nervous, uptight, high-strung leader of a string quartet; a control freak while his personal and professional life spin out of control. It took my breath away to see his face and body react to a hurtful comment his lover, played by Todd Jefferson Moore, casually tossed off while turning away. It wasn't a line, it wasn't even a face-to-face exchange, but Fitzpatrick made it the emotional turning point of the play.

Mark Fullerton still haunts us as a little boy having trouble going to sleep in Mr. Jibbers, an exquisite little play from 14/48 with a clever set and brilliant puppetry. Fullerton was perfectly petulant and playful and bewitched by the dreams and terrors of the night.

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