Review: Simon Callow mesmerizes in ‘Being Shakespeare’
By Betty Mohr Theater Reviewfirstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2012 4:27AM
British stage and film actor Simon Callow stars in "Being Shakespeare," a multidimensional portrait of William Shakespeare's works and life, presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater at the Broadway Playhouse to April 29. | Andre Penteado photo
◆ Through April 29
◆ Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago
◆ Tickets, $45-$75
◆ (800) 775-2000, BroadwayinChicago.com
Updated: April 26, 2012 4:37AM
Did William Shakespeare really write the greatest plays of all time, or were his classics written by someone else, someone better educated and better connected?
That is the question that has preoccupied Shakespearean scholars for centuries, as well as Jonathan Bate, who wrote “Being Shakespeare,” now playing at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.
We know that Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616, and that he grew up in the small English town of Stratford-upon-Avon.
We also know that he helped his father make gloves (everyone wore them in those days), got married at the very young age of 18 and that his wife was 26 years old at the time, had two children, and that he went off at age 24 to London, where he became an actor.
That, however, doesn’t explain the awesome brilliance of works such as “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Othello,” “Julius Caesar,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “King Lear,” and 31 other masterpieces.
The one-man biographical show, performed by British actor Simon Callow, offers a hint as to the secret of Shakespeare’s awesome way with the English language and his haunting power to understand human nature.
In a tour-de-force portrayal, Callow weaves the fabric of Shakespeare’s life with the Bard’s soaring verse.
Callow plays both Romeo and Juliet, parting with such sweet sorrow; Hamlet, who explains how not to saw the air when speaking the speech; and then explaining how “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
The most important explanation of how Shakespeare came to be Shakespeare, though, comes in the first act as Callow goes into detail on William’s grammar schooling.
This is where Callow delivers the high point of “Being Shakespeare,” in which he deals with the kind of education Shakespeare would have received as a boy.
We follow Callow as he chronicles the way the students would have memorized Latin grammar and rhetoric, the study of which impacted Shakespeare’s future writing.
That scene not only gives a convincing explanation as to Shakespeare’s ability to write the glorious phrases of great drama, but is quite funny and engaging as Callow conveys meaning in a dozen different ways.
Directed by Tom Cairns, the minimal set is centered by a bright globe enveloped by shadows and dark walls.
With a deep understanding of Shakespeare’s incredible use of the English language and with a mellifluous vocal range, Callow beguiles the audience into rapt attention.
Callow’s performance is as magical as any one of Shakespeare’s characters. He gives a mesmerizing performance the likes of which one will not soon forget.
As Hamlet would say, “What a piece of work is a man.” Indeed.
Betty Mohr is a local freelance writer.