NEW YORK—Actor and playwright James DeVita’s “In Acting Shakespeare” opens with an excerpt from “Richard III,” for which the actor transforms himself before our eyes into the misshapen, malevolent villain we have come to shudder at.
DeVita hits the mark with his portrayal and sets the stage for two hours of skillfully performed Shakespearean verse and prose. These interpretations are interspersed with facts (and imaginings) about the Bard’s life and events of his own, growing up on Long Island.
DeVita’s early life was spent close to the sea, and his earliest working days were on the fishing boats. But a gnawing dissatisfaction led him to try college, from which he flunked out, twice.
DeVita’s chance viewing of noted British actor Sir Ian McKellen in his one-man “Acting Shakespeare” changed DeVita’s life. He had found his calling and vowed to become an actor, a classical actor. He later freely adapted McKellen’s play for this production, with Sir Ian’s permission.
The initially gauche young man, when asked to audition for a theater study program with two monologues, got a book from the library titled “The Book of Party Monologues.” It was actually a joke book, and his rendition won him no points with the auditioner. When asked to do something more serious, DeVita offered an excerpt from the movie “Jaws.” But, happily, there were to be other chances.
When he auditioned for another program with Hamlet’s “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I,” at first he did not do well. But when he picked up a chair toward the end of the monologue and made as if to throw it at the judges in the audience, so effective was his “suiting the action to the word, and the word to the action,” that he was accepted.
555 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-563-9261 or visit www.pearltheatre.org
Running Time: 2 hours
Closes: Feb. 3
DeVita describes his approach by comparing two famous dancers. He wanted to play Shakespeare in the way that Gene Kelly dances, like a “regular guy,” a working man, rather than the highly sophisticated manner of say, Fred Astaire. But although DeVita’s concept is down to earth, don’t think that his performance, as far as interpretation and delivery, is anything less than right on the button.
Regarding DeVita’s delivery of Hamlet’s famous “advice to the players” speech, he points out that it’s really Shakespeare’s advice to actors in general. DeVita, who moves exceptionally well, often matches physical moves to the words, but with subtlety. He does not “saw the air, as many players do.”
DeVita’s discussions of Shakespeare himself are interesting; some are admittedly fictionalized, such as the Bard’s imagined talks with his father. What is known, however, is that the young playwright was apprenticed as a glove maker, working on leather.
How, DeVita wonders, did the young man, son of a glove maker, with a grammar school education, go from the small town of Stratford-on-Avon, travel on his own to London, find actors and the theater, and become the gifted and famed William Shakespeare we all know of?
There is much more to come. The play closes with Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, thoughtfully delivered by DeVita.
James DeVita has pursued his studies well, resulting in this unique and moving presentation. The production is enhanced by effective lighting by Jason Fassl and sound design by Fitz Patton. Original direction was by John Langs.
Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.