Roger Rees has titled his clever, light-as-a-feather one-man show "What You Will: An Evening By and About the Bard."
But the evening happily is also about Rees. The British stage actor, also known to American TV audiences for roles on "The West Wing"and "Cheers," shares bits of his life in a charmingly low-key way as he celebrates the work of William Shakespeare.
Wednesday night's one-man show hosted by Orlando Shakespeare Theater certainly played to a receptive crowd: Many in the audience were participants in the Shakespeare Theatre Association's annual conference, taking place in Orlando this year.
But I suspect that even without an audience of experts, Rees' twinkling delivery would be a crowd-pleaser. His demeanor incorporates the traits we Americans associate with British humor: A wryness in the delivery and, most important, a self-deprecating manner.
He informs us "every pretentious jerk with an accent" wants to be a Shakespearean actor with a little apologetic shrug of his shoulders.
He compares his achievements to friend and colleague Ben Kingsley, who has won an Academy Award and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II:
"A couple of years ago I played a surgeon on 'Grey's Anatomy,'" he intones, puffing up. With precise comic timing, he waits for his laugh and then adds with even more mock smugness: "In a three-episode arc."
He relates a story about how his first lines in a production with the Royal Shakespeare Company were taken from him by acclaimed director Trevor Nunn. He recalls Nunn telling him: "Shakespeare is difficult enough without you getting in the way."
He strums a ukulele, tells a hair-raising tale of an actor's trick wig, expertly delivers a joke that simultaneously maligns the great French philosopher Voltaire and the entire nation of Canada.
Oh yes, and he shows his Shakespearean chops, delivering famous monologues from shows such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet" that show he knows his way around the language.
Mostly, he does the acting without props, though warm lighting indicates the presence of Juliet in the balcony scene (helped by the fact the stage's backdrop is set for the Shakes' current production of the show). More dramatic lighting, with a nifty shadow effect, effectively adds menace to the "Is this a dagger which I see before me" speech from "Macbeth."
Perhaps his best monologue, angry, tragic and pitiable, is the "How can you say to me I am a king" speech from "Richard II," which ends with Rees huddled on the floor.
But it's the lighthearted, breezy tone of the bulk of the show that sticks with you. A Sarah Palin joke here, an extended story about an American tourist who thinks she has solved the "mystery" of who killed King Duncan ("It can't be Macbeth or his lady!"), even Shakespeare's take on the hokey pokey.
For a diverting evening with some literary punch behind it, that's what it's all about.
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