Thursday, July 06, 2006

ACTING IN AMERICA Thanks to Jayne Houdyshell--no acting slouch herself--for her comments on my recent Alvin Epstein post. (For those interested in the KING LEAR production, The Playgoer has a review that covers all the important points.)

Why do many of our finest actors spend decades in the trenches, working in small venues outside of the media spotlight? There are many reasons, of course. And there certainly are worse fates: I'm not bemoaning the Sorry Life Of The Working Actor so much as I am the loss to audiences that accrues when our finest practitioners go underutilized.

In any event, I suspect film and TV are a big part of the problem. Specifically, the way an actor's success (or lack thereof) in those mediums seems to have become an outsized factor in casting decisions at our larger non-profits theatre companies.

(Let's not even talk about Broadway.)

Take Liev Schreiber, for example. A fine stage actor--one of my favorites. But would he get all the juicy roles in the big productions without the notoriety and cultural cache that his film career provides?

And without the big platform that such productions offer, would people like Charles Isherwood be labeling him "the foremost Shakespearean actor of his generation in America"?

Can we really imagine Isherwood conferring that kind of title on an actor known primarily for his or her work at the Pearl Theatre?

And so the celebrity culture seeps deeper and deeper into our national fabric.

It's a sorry state of affairs. And it's all the more reason for those of us with strong opinions to try to help get the word out about America's best, least-known stage actors.

So: If Gary Wilmes is in something--go see it. Christina Kirk signs on for a new production? Buy a ticket.

Noodging to be continued.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.