Their Own Words: An Evening with Gielgud, Burton, and Olivier | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Their Own Words: An Evening with Gielgud, Burton, and Olivier

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Their Own Words: An Evening with Gielgud, Burton, and Olivier, Prometheus Theatre Company, at Breadline Theatre. Writer-performer Pat Shay's one-man show--investigating the overlapping lives of three of the last century's greatest Shakespearean actors--at first seems overly ambitious. And he admits as much in the opening monologue, when he says he hopes to cover "a century of theater history without making you so bored you shit yourself." Mission accomplished: Shay mostly lets his subjects--John Gielgud, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier--speak for themselves, and the crisp oral history that emerges is so engrossing you wish he'd portrayed even more events in such painstaking detail.

An ImprovOlympic veteran, Shay reveals himself to be a capable enough mimic under Mark Sutton's direction. He certainly has down pat Gielgud's soft-spokenness, Olivier's wild gesticulations, and Burton's icy stare. His own observations, when he's confident enough to make them, are priceless: Shay likens Gielgud's renowned acting family to the Baldwins, riffs hysterically on Olivier's hammy histrionics, and hits the bull's-eye describing the ridiculous circumstances of Gielgud's being outed. At times Shay drops his accent or flubs a line or two, and he doesn't give Burton--the most bitter and sardonic of the three--a potent enough voice. But seeing him convey with such passion and affection these larger-than-life figures in all their glorious imperfection is fascinating.

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