'Ages of Man' has the Bard's greatest hits

April 02, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

In Ages of Man, actor Marc Horwitz provides audiences with a new definition of tough.

Horwitz might not chase criminals for a living or enter burning houses to rescue trapped children. All he has to do is stand on stage by himself and talk to people who aren't there. He just has to deliver 110 minutes of sonnets and Shakespearean dialogue while shifting between two dozen roles. He merely must act his heart out inches from a room full of blank-eyed, arms-crossed, foot-jiggling theatergoers who can see every drop of sweat trickling down his face.

In this production for Performance Workshop Theatre, Horwitz does a creditable job of surmounting these and other obstacles. If the evening comes off as more of a recital than a play, it's partly the nature of the piece and doesn't detract from the audience's enjoyment.

Think of Ages as a collection of Shakespeare's greatest hits. The show is a one-actor tour de force initially performed by Sir John Gielgud in the late 1950s in Europe and the U.S. The concoction includes the monologue from As You Like It that provides the title of the current show; King Lear mourning the death of his daughter, Cordelia; Hamlet's soliloquy on suicide; and Prospero's retirement speech at the end of The Tempest .

Ages also showcases several much-loved sonnets: the 18th (S hall I compare thee to a summer's day?), the 116th (Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment) and the 29th (W hen in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes) .

Horwitz has trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the world's top troupe dedicated to the Bard, and he delivers the always-tricky Elizabethan dialogue elegantly and without apparent effort.

But, at times, I wished he would speak his lines in his natural voice, instead of intoning them in the ripened enunciations used to indicate that Shakespeare is being performed. I wished I could see, in his eyes and on his face, that he was gripped by what he was saying.

To be fair, these are not easy tasks. When an actor has no more than a minute to inhabit a jealous and tyrannical king in The Winter's Tale before transforming into the mischievous Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, there's barely enough time to get the words out, much less to develop nuanced characterizations.

For me, the chief pleasure of the evening occurs when the show ventures into less frequently performed works, such as King John, and some of the Bard's earliest sonnets in which he urges a reluctant young friend to marry and father children.

Horwitz's performing skills may be best appreciated when fresh images are unfurling in the audience's minds and catching us by surprise, when we're not silently mouthing the words to speeches we long ago learned by heart.

The more unfamiliar the terrain, the more we value our savvy and experienced guide.

if you go

The Ages of Man runs through April 11 at Performance Workshop Theatre, 28 E. Ostend St. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 410-659-7830 or go to performanceworkshoptheatre.org.

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