“Words fail me” can never be applied to Christopher Plummer. Whether bringing others’ to vivid life (in both official languages) and relating the very personal, at times unstintingly private events of his 80+ years on the planet, there was n’er a dull moment in this now fully staged version of A Word or Two.
Having kindred spirit Des McAnuff add his theatrical flair (the ten-second intermission kept everyone wide awake and howling for more) provided the punctuation, leaving the actor to flesh out the consonants and vowels in his own inimitable way.
From the initial lights up, it was clear that love abounded throughout the packed Avon Theatre both for the Academy Award winner (cross-reference below) by his legions of fans, friends and colleagues and from him unreservedly back to them: without audiences lo these past 60 years, Plummer’s skills would never have blossomed then matured in such extraordinary fashion.
Whether quoting nonsense (Stephen Leacock’s veritably galloping off in all directions), reciting poetry (the W.H. Auden deep-South impersonation was a tears-in-your-eyes lavender hoot) or riveting the throng with declamations via Shaw and Shakespeare, Plummer’s love, respect, admiration, jealousy, irreverence and childish delight in the world’s great literature came through in every line, stanza and speech.
Shamelessly honest about temptation, love and death (“scared shitless”), the ever-affable octogenarian literally held court—putting himself and his beloved wordsmiths on the stand with an astonishing range of emotion, superlative comic timing and gritty passion that few actors could ever hope to so convincingly display.
Aside from the poetic glue of Lewis Carroll’s “an aged man a-sitting on a gate” binding the work together, many more passageways from heaven through hell to unbridled lust and systemic hangovers gave the night (roughly one minute of stage time per year lived) a compelling rite of passage from the womb until Tonight at 8:30. (And so coincidentally at one with my summer reading: Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark—another singular artist of the first rank.)
More’s the pity the younger generation (beyond the Festival’s company) weren’t present in large numbers to witness just what can result when considered thought, heady ideas and the complete spectrum of moods are created live whether or not they meet the 124-character threshold that purposely, necessarily dumbs down language, purging nuance along the way.
How, then, to adequately sum up this incredible journey in the same vein as its conception? Soft you, perhaps a word or two will suffice:
Simply marvellous. JWR