Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
By Brad Bradley
For those who care about the work of the late Welsh actor Richard Burton, even more famous for his affair and two marriages to Elizabeth Taylor than for his notable work as a stage and later mostly film actor, Playing Burton is a notable treat, with Brian Mallon casting a spell as Burton, luckily having both a look and voice which give him a decided leg up in his assignment. Burton was said to "use English like a sword," and his joy in speaking Shakespeare and Marlowe was apparent. His complicated, often self-destructive life, not so unlike that of the dramatic icons he portrayed, led to what he himself describes as "myth" about the greatness of his acting.
Unlike the paper-thin version of the life of actor John Barrymore that Christopher Plummer performed on Broadway some time ago, this staged biography does have significant samples of an actor at work, and some insight into Burton's own view of acting as well. Also, Mallon has studied his subject quite well, and delivers superbly. Author/director Jenkins smartly provides in his text samples of Burton rendering lines from roles he is particularly connected with, including of course the eponymous Hamlet as well as George from Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Act I usefully includes a profile of his childhood family in Wales, particular pride in the sister who raised him, and a good sense of his mentor Philip Burton, from whom he took his own stage name. Also we see some of the understandable regrets of his life, including not living long enough to play King Lear. However, the first act is a bit too heavy on personal gossip, and the production notes leave one wondering if the author of this stage biography shares any family heritage with Burton, also called Jenkins before he adopted his stage name.
The second act has more dramatic edge, opening with the fantasy of Burton reading his own obituaries in the newspapers, and also including superb anecdotes involving John Gielgud and Winston Churchill, in addition to inevitable additional references to Burton's romantic conquests and challenges. One wishes for more examination of the acting partnership with Ms. Taylor, with fuller attention to his better roles with and without her, perhaps including their successful film of The Taming of the Shrew and their apparently ironically riotous rendition of Coward's Private Lives.
Fallon's burning eyes help cast a magnetic spell on the audience, whether he is recalling his subject's early Shakespearean challenges, describing the humble family life in Wales, or chatting on the telephone to Elizabeth Taylor when she apparently queried "Who's Marlowe?" in response to a reference to Shakespeare's notable contemporary. His voice is strong and uncannily convincing, perhaps different from the subject only in being a bit more reedy in texture.
As director of his own script, Jenkins achieves strong pacing and energy from Mallon's performance, although the direction is deprived of the critical eye on the script that at times lets the material substitute bathos for revelation. Overall though, Playing Burton is a worthy show that deserves a look.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.