Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hilton Als, "Less An Actor Than A Monologuist"

Mandy Patinkin became something of a star in the early eighties, when the De Niro-Pacino era—ordinary Joe becomes leading man and finds love with Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer—had already been established, and ethnic-looking leading men were still in fashion. Patinkin, who is Jewish, had an appealing quality on film in those years: sturdy, fighting his way around whatever obstacles society put in his way. But onstage he is odd to watch. In this production, he doesn’t seem to connect with the other actors or with the text; he is isolated in the part. Elisabeth Waterston, for example—she has the kind of fine, melancholy features that Ingres loved to draw—pays close attention to Patinkin as he speaks, but he barely seems to register her. And whenever he has a speech to deliver he bellows and races through it. Prospero is angry about the past, of course, but not all the time. It’s difficult to tell whether this interpretation—which reveals little about Prospero’s progression from spurned nobleman to wise artist—is due to Kulick’s direction or to Patinkin himself, but you can certainly feel that Patinkin is more relaxed when he sings, or stands alone onstage addressing the audience directly, than when he is called upon to respond to the other performers. In short, one suspects that Patinkin is less an actor than a monologuist, interested mostly in his song of the self.

The only actors who seem to connect are Elisabeth Waterston and Stark Sands. In the lovely scene in Act III when Ferdinand professes his love, we’re given a glimmer of what this production might have been had all the actors interacted: a kind of homage to forgiveness.

by Hilton Als
The New Yorker, September 29, 2008
from "Stormy Weather," a review of The Tempest at the Classic Stage Company