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One-man show traces one man’s life

By Daily Bruin Staff

March 31, 1996 9:00 pm

Monday, April 1, 1996

By Jennifer Richmond

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Of all the people who could play famous film and stage star John
Barrymore, none are more deserving or could have played the part
more magnificently than stage actor Nicol Williamson.

In his new one-man show at the Geffen playhouse, "Jack: A night
on the town with John Barrymore," Williamson recounts the actor’s
shining star on Broadway and follows him as that star dims during
his years in Hollywood.

Like Barrymore, Williamson has had his share of bad run-ins with
press and fellow actors alike. Five years ago, Williamson, who was
playing Barrymore in Paul Rudnick’s "I Hate Hamlet," received some
bad press over an unchoreographed stab he fed a fellow actor that
sent him running off stage never to return. This spontaneity,
integrated with Barrymore’s classic personality make "Jack" a

Williamson’s portrayal of the actor is also delightful. He is so
passionate, so energized and so in tune with the character, it’s
impossible to decipher where Williamson ends and Barrymore begins.
The two are like one person both in acting and in real life.

One night, during a performance of "Hamlet," Barrymore got
incredibly nauseated during the "To be or not to be" soliloquy due
to some heavy drinking. So, he trotted off stage and threw up. One
critic described the action as the best staging he’d ever seen
because it clearly showed Hamlet’s pain.

Although not nearly as painful, Williamson had a similar ordeal
on opening night. The sound had some technical difficulties and
Williamson stopped in the middle of the show to reprimand sound and
apologize to the audience for the inconvenience. While neither
Barrymore or Williamson’s actions were staged, they both worked to
make the performance even better.

Williamson also had on this night a little bit of trouble
remembering his lines during the show. But Williamson’s stumbling
only works to create a more accurate portrayal of Barrymore. His
flubs are so natural they seem like they were specifically written
for the character because Barrymore, especially when he started
drinking, had the same problem.

The play features a time during Barrymore’s Hollywood years,
after his career had started its downward spiral, when he was asked
to do a screen test for the lead in "Hamlet." Although appalled he
had to do a screen test, he has no fear that he will nail it on the
first try. Unfortunately, the audition doesn’t go so well.

Impaired by his incessant drinking, Barrymore fails the
monologue once, twice, three times and runs off stage to find
solace in himself and his alcohol. After giving himself an
uplifting pep talk, Barrymore walks back onto the sound stage to
give it another go. Rooting for him all the way, the audience is
just as disappointed as Barrymore when his drinking proves to have
gotten the better of him and he fails yet again.

This scene alone is worth the price of admission. But it’s just
a taste of the astounding performance Williamson gives over the
course of the two-hour drama.

There are very few shows currently out there that can floor an
audience. Nicol Williamson’s "Jack" has proven it’s one of

STAGE: "Jack: A Night on the Town with John Barrymore." Starring
and written by Nicol Williamson. Through April 13 at the Geffen
Playhouse. Performs Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
at 8 p.m. Matinees Saturday, Sunday at 2 p.m. For more info call:
(310) 208-5454.Nicol Williamson stars in "Jack: A Night on the Town
with John Barrymore,"currently at the Geffen Playhouse.

Comments to [email protected]

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