Watching Patrick Stewart re-enact his greatest onstage goof-up is a comedy show in itself.
He cringes as he relates the time he fell asleep onstage during a performance of 'King Lear': "One Saturday afternoon, I kind of drifted off …," he sheepishly begins.
By the time Stewart has recounted how he upstaged the leading man by interrupting his big soliloquy, completely ruined an offstage sound effect, made the ensemble snicker and had been forced to repeat a line twice just to get things back on track, the audience is roaring.
With easy charm and wit, Stewart showed why he's a master storyteller on Friday as he shared anecdotes from his storied acting career in a special one-night-only program at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.
Best known as Capt. Picard on TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and Professor Charles Xavier in the "X-Men" film series, Stewart is in Central Florida as part of MegaCon, a convention for sci-fi and comic-book fans.
But Stewart also has an extensive background in stage acting in his native Britain and on Broadway — especially in Shakespearean roles. His stage work was the focus of Friday's "An Evening With Sir Patrick Stewart," which sold out in roughly half an hour.
Dressed casually in jeans, boots and a leather jacket, Stewart, 72, talked easily about co-stars, his knighthood and, of course, Shakespeare for about 80 minutes.
Reminiscing about working with a young Helen Mirren in the Royal Shakespeare Company, he sported a cheeky grin to applause. "Everybody was in love with her," he said. A pause while his eyes twinkled mischievously. "This was the '60s."
He launched a spirited defense of Claudius, the murderous king in "Hamlet," invoking laughter as he built to a finish: "The problem with Claudius is he made one mistake … you don't kill people."
He rode roughshod over theater tradition by speaking aloud the title of what superstitious actors call Shakespeare's "Scottish play": "I've made my own rule that once you've played Macbeth, you can say the title as many times as you want."
Musing on his love of working with a company of actors, he speculated a "slightly chaotic home life" as a child led him to seek a place to belong. He spent more than a decade with the Royal Shakespeare Company in his native Britain. He spent seven TV seasons with his "Star Trek" castmates, two of whom attended the program.
Host Jim Helsinger praised Stewart's resonant voice.
"Just read the phone book," he joked during the program, designed to resemble the interviews on TV's "Inside the Actors Studio." Stewart donated the program's proceeds to Orlando Shakespeare Theater, of which Helsinger is artistic director.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for services to drama, Stewart said the honor makes him emotional. "My pals will make fun of me," he said, gesturing to "Star Trek" colleagues Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn, "but I'm immensely proud of it."
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