'Shakespeare: Dreams of Power and Passion'
When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Jan. 20.
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
** 1/2 Near the beginning of his one-man show, "Shakespeare: Dreams of Power and Passion," British actor Paul Alexander tells the audience that he is going to perform speeches by a half dozen Shakespearean characters illustrating that "ultimate happiness cannot be found by turning man's dreams of power or passion into reality."
Although somewhat oversimplified -- a flaw that also affects several of his portrayals -- this theme is especially apt at a time when the leaders of two nations stand poised on the brink of war in the Middle East.
The characters selected by Mr. Alexander, a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, range from the historical (Henry V and Mark Antony) to the comical (Malvolio from "Twelfth Night" and Bottom from "A Midsummer Night's Dream") to the embodiment of power and passion (Macbeth).
Royal figures might seem more obvious examples of Mr. Alexander's thesis, but despite his splendid diction, the actor lacks the regal bearing necessary to render these figures sufficiently imposing.
Where he truly shines is in his portrayals of the comic characters, particularly the supercilious and pompous Malvolio, whose lines he punctuates with haughty sniffs.
When he gets to Bottom the Weaver, a character included by virtue of his inflated opinion of himself, Mr. Alexander relies on the tried-and-true crowd pleaser of calling for audience volunteers, who assist him in the presentation of "Midsummer's" play-within-a-play, "Pyramus and Thisby."
This is most amusing. However, theatergoers familiar with this famous comedy will note that Mr. Alexander jumps ahead rather freely. This doesn't present any significant difficulty in following the fate of poor Bottom. But when the actor focuses on more complex characters, most notably Macbeth, his technique of patching together unrelated speeches proves disorienting. In addition, this Reader's Digest tendency to skip from one climactic point to another makes it difficult to get a grasp on his interpretation of the characters.
Such cavils aside, the opportunity to hear a classically trained Shakespearean actor reciting the Bard's words at the Theatre Project is as rare as seeing a Masterpiece Theatre presentation at an avant-garde film festival. If Mr. Alexander's dream comes through more strongly than his power and passion, it's still a darned good dream.