“A Word or Two” with Christopher Plummer at the Ahmanson
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
Words, words, words with Christopher saying them was a refreshingly delightful evening of theatre at its best at the Ahmanson. I think of Professor Henry Higgins as he was teaching Eliza Doolittle and there is a quality of the professor in Christopher Plummer’s magnetic performance. I was an English major and familiar with many of the authors and poets whose works he brought to life in such an energetic and charismatic way. He is indeed a wordsmith. And it was a fantastic journey through the spoken word. Plummer’s rich mind created the perfect venue for himself. He is all the authors he ever read and gives a marvelously fun performance. This is not to be missed.
Plummer wrote the show and it was superbly directed by Tony award winning director, Des Mc Anuff, whose direction has the octogenarian moving all over the stage, from standing to sitting. Plummer seemed always in motion and the movement helped maintain the energy.
“A Word Or Two” is an autobiographical journey from birth to death, and the journey begins with Plummer telling us how he became intoxicated with words as a youth in Quebec. He tells his story punctuated with readings, from memory, and verse from his favorite authors and poets. His tale begins with Lewis Carroll’s old man at the gate and ends with the old man. Of course, we got readings from ”Alice In Wonderland”. The writing was brilliant! Plummer gets to emote as his favorite authors and poets and becomes the things and people he speaks of. He had great use of body language and accents as he became the fey Truman Capote-like Harrod and quipped, “Why am I doing him in a Southern accent?” It worked. In the transformations we got Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, W. H. Auden, A. A. Milne, Dylan Thomas, Steven Leacock, a Russian Nabokov, Emily Dickinson, and a host of others including a Tony Sopranoesque character. I could not keep up! Plummer sang and spoke in French and his characters were so great in depicting what he was saying that even though I do not speak French, I understood all. Wasn’t there an edge of the great Maurice Chevalier in some of the word stories done in French? I thought so. I was blown away by the very talented Christopher Plummer. And my love of language was rekindled.
Robert Brill’s set, with a sculpture of books, like a twisted stairway to the sky enhanced the very words as did the lighting and lovely projections. There was a desk, and chairs and Plummer took full advantage of the entire stage as he moved about reaching for an occasional prop hidden in the vast array of books. Those props, as a cane with a sword hidden inside, aided in creating the dramatic characterizations. The sound effects were subtle and added to the overall feeling. Every gamut of emotions was expressed.
Plummer , whose birth on Friday the 13th in 1929 coincided with the stock market crash was an only child whose mother divorced. She raised him in Quebec, where he was surrounded by a hundred aunties, or so it seemed and his grandparents. He was raised by a gaggle of women. He had crippling shyness and found solace in his room with his books. The characters in them became his companions. He could chat with friends from “the Wind in The Willows” or be with Peter Pan and the “lost boys.”
Besides churches and his family did take him Sundays, where young Plummer would drift off into the image of the sun coming through the stained glass windows, Quebec had some wonderful pubs. Plummer took to libations, (now how could I say “alcohol” or “drink” when I am writing about a love of words?) and gave us a detailed telling of one drunken night when he fell asleep in a snow drift. His mother found him and rescued him. That led to him escaping dreary Canada to pursue acting. Acting was the perfect career for a man so in love with escaping into words. Plummer has the ability to bring words alive, to shape them and utter them in a caressing manner and startle or soothe us. He tastes the language. He has fun with the language and imparts that to his audience.
The journey takes us to romance and to love, and to divorce. Much is told tongue in cheek in a jovial manner. Plummer is such a good raconteur! Actor David Niven also was able to hold his audience captive as a raconteur. Both wrapped words around their silver tongues.
Plummer told of his New York days on the stage and nights spent at the White Horse Tavern listening to Dylan Thomas raging and reading and imbibing with Richard Burton. I visited the White Horse Tavern when I lived in New York, but, alas, those giants were not there in the 70’s to add to the local color.
He told a jocular tale of a man so drunk that he fell down and was found sleeping with a pig. A woman walked by and remarked about being judged by the company a person keeps. “The pig got up and walked away.”
The journey leads to one’s last moment on earth as Plummer shows us views of death, or is it birth as his word pictures take us into the last gasp of the dark or is it eternal light? It is the unknown? And, there is the old man at the gate again. Plummer implored us to instill a love of language into children and to open doors for them through books, through literature. Ever the magical professor, this is our task to instill knowledge to the children, to inspire them.
This is a man who loves words, who loves literature, loves theatre, and who loves recreating his journey by being an adept wordsmith. Christopher Plummer just plain old loves life and has a joi de vie with words. Of course, this Incomparable talent got a standing ovation.
“A Word Or Two” runs at the Ahmanson Theatre at 135 N. Grand through January 26th. For tickets to this limited run, call 213-972-4400.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next classes start in January with registration in December. For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com