Jeff Smith 12:01 p.m., March 29
In his youth, playwright Ronald Harwood served as dresser for Sir Donald Wolfit, a British actor who performed mostly in the provinces ("Olivier was a tour de force," went a joke, "Wolfit was forced to tour"). Harwood's experiences shape one of the theater's most moving celebrations of the craft. Sir, a Wolfit-like actor, is old, frayed, and has one of the most demanding jobs in the world (he played Othello last night; tonight, his 227th King Lear; tomorrow, Richard III). When the play begins, in England during the 1942 Blitz, sirens blare, and Sir can't remember where he's been, let alone his lines. As bombs fall, his dresser of 16 years, Norman, practices his craft with pep talks, cajoling, whatever it takes. Norman's at once a doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, docent, and slave. Even so, it's doubtful he can revive such a "spent force." Somehow Sir dons the King's ancient makeup and great red robe - a process fascinating to watch - and revives. Throughout, The Dresser resembles reading James Boswell on Dr. Johnson. You watch two artists at work, two halves of a much larger artistic whole. This sense also applies to the performances of Jonathan McMurtry, as Sir, and Sean Sullivan, as Norman, in the North Coast Rep's terrific production. Individually, each is excellent - McMurtry's Sir broken down for having to carry "the whole bloody universe" as Lear; Sullivan, never better, as the selfless servant, astonishingly devoted, brutally underappreciated. Combined, their interplay is a wonder. The David Ellenstein-directed cast has no weak links. And Marty Burnett's brick-walled, earth-tone set moves from the green room to backstage, it seems, in the blink of an eye.
When: Ongoing until Sunday, February 8, 2009
- Sundays, 2pm & 7pm
- Thursdays, 8pm
- Fridays, 8pm
- Saturdays, 8pm