Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"What You Will": ☼ ☼ 1/2

Roger Rees knows everything about Shakespeare. He knows soliloquies from Hamlet, love scenes from Romeo and Juliet, costuming from all the Henrys and Richards and also every book, article and scholarly work that has ever been written about the plays of Shakespeare, about performing Shakespeare or about the Bard himself.

Rees has a great smile and is also a familiar face, having appeared in countless TV shows, films, miniseries and TV specials. The first moment he steps out onto a stage sparsely furnished with not much more than a throne and Yorick's skull, you recognize him: It's the Sheriff of Rottingham, from Mel Brooks's "Robin Hood: Men in Tights!" You love him already.

Alas, the play's the thing. Roger Rees's one-man show "What You Will" isn't really a play. It is an entertaining and educational evening, yes; an homage to the great Shakespearean actors of the past 300 years, yes; and a few humdinger famous speeches from Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet and others are included, yes indeed. There are several memorable moments.

As a show, "What You Will" doesn't reach very far. If Roger Rees were our English teacher, this would be, hands down, the best class in the university. But it's a large stage and we are used to seeing a little more. There is not much arc to the story. We go out pretty much where we came in.

That said, there is plenty for which to applaud, and the audience certainly did so. But more Shakespeare! The stories get old, Shakespeare never does. When Rees performs Hamlet's famous 'To Be or Not To Be' soliloquy, we are simply stunned by its majesty.

One special moment should be mentioned: Rees's recitation of a James Thurber story in which an American tourist 'solves' the mystery of Hamlet. This is funny stuff; also, everything Rees has to say about Macbeth makes us want to run out and see Macbeth.

But probably not "What You Will" again, though actors and others who cherish Shakespeare will certainly find a lot to ponder, over a nice cold goblet of mead.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ 1/2

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "What You Will Two and a Half Stars. One star is for Rees's craft and another for his obvious and contagious love of the theater. The show earns another half star for the inclusion of Noel Coward's "Butterstumps!" comment to Vivien Leigh backstage, after she couldn't pick up a stick while playing Lavinia in Titus Adronicus. (Lavinia has had her hands chopped off.)

"What You Will"
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue.-Sun. through Aug 3

No comments: