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.
If you’re a classical actor – and if you’re talented, dedicated and unreasonably lucky – there comes a time when you run out of parts. At 82, Christopher Plummer has already conquered the hallmark roles reserved for the aging stage actor, taking on King Lear at the Stratford Festival in 2002 and, more recently, Prospero in The Tempest.
But Canada’s most consummate showman isn’t quite ready to say goodbye. In many ways, he’s just hitting his stride. In February, he collected an Academy Award for his sweet, wrenching turn as a widower who comes out of the closet in Beginners,and became the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar. May saw the release of the film version of Barrymore, his 1996 play about legendary actor and fellow bad boy John Barrymore that earned him a Tony Award.
The next step forward is to look backward. This month, Plummer returns to Stratford to open A Word or Two, his one-man show about his lifelong romance with literature. The performance intersperses autobiographical anecdotes with selections from some formative writers – from Rudyard Kipling to Lewis Carroll; from Ben Jonson to Stephen Leacock. The show, a kind of thank you to the world of acting, has been in gestation for decades; Plummer, ever forward-thinking, cheekily describes the piece as “something I can perform in my dotage.”
It’s fitting that the work will get its official premiere at Stratford, a place whose history is so entangled with Plummer’s own. When the actor first arrived in the bucolic southern Ontario town in 1956 to play Henry V, the theatre was still just a big white tent in a field. Twenty-six years old, cocky and not shy about using his clout as a headliner, Plummer demanded that the festival forbid the local train from whistling during his favourite soliloquy. (His wish was granted.) Since then, Plummer and the festival have grown up together.
The title of this new show is taken from Othello’s final monologue, “A word or two before you go.” If these are, in fact, the last words we get from Plummer onstage, it will be a graceful farewell. After six decades playing some of the greatest roles in theatre, Plummer is coming home, this time to simply be himself.
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.”
“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.”
Photos: Toronto Star/Getstock; Steve Granitz/Wireimage/Getty