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Unlocking Secrets of Shakespearean Masters Hot

Ron Severdia
Written by Ron Severdia     January 08, 2011    
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Unlocking Secrets of Shakespearean Masters
  • Actors Talk About Shakespeare
  • by Mary Z. Maher
  • Publisher: Limelight Editions
  • Published in August 1, 2009
  • 5

Every once in a while a book comes along that makes you feel as if you have just uncovered a long-lost wizard's tome containing all the secrets of the universe. Such a tome is the unassumingly titled Actors Talk About Shakespeare by Mary Maher.

Maher, professor emerita from the University of Arizona, interviewed ten top Shakespearean actors about their philosophies and problems when approaching Shakespeare in performance. Some of the responses are fairly run of the mill, such as speaking naturally and clearly. However most are highly insightful (and seemingly obscure) observations that even made me think "I thought I was the only one who approached it like that!"

In the first interview, appropriately titled "I Can Add Colors to the Chameleon", the incomparable Kevin Kline describes how each and every word needs to resonate for him. "I can always tell when comic business has been imposed on actors as opposed to having been found in rehearsal," says Kline. He describes the kind of "visible odor" when an actor is performing somebody else's idea. And in the ownership of that idea, there's a responsibility—an instinctual commitment to the performance, which brings it a richness that is the pinnacle of theatre. Kline, a mystic in his own right, eloquently crystallizes detail after detail of his roles as Hamlet, Henry V, and more recently on Broadway, King Lear. It is like sitting next to him and listening to his thoughts while he rehearses.

In the legendary Kenneth Branagh's interview, titled "Fretted with Golden Fire", Branagh speaks of seemingly effortless technical mastery. "What is even more thrilling was that if a level of understanding and intelligence and clarity was also allied with a sense of it happening before our very eyes," he explains, "Where the superficial elements of technique were present as well, then the overall effect was dynamite." This technical perfection would allow the audience to experience the words rather than hear or understand—leading to a transcendent and transformative experience. He adds, "I also realized that it was a very, very challenging thing to do," though I think he has managed to achieve it.

The eight interviews that follow (with Derek Jacobi, Stacy Keach, Zoe Caldwell, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Tony Church, Nicholas Pennell, and Geoff Hutchings) are just as amazing and enlightening as the first two. The interviews took place at different times in different circumstances, and Maher uses other periodicals for additional clarification, but she brings each chapter together in a logical and consistent format, making the overall book flow smoothly. At less than $20 (around $15 for new and half that used on, this book is a bargain for actors, directors and anyone who wants to see how the great wizards of Shakespeare work their magic.

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