‘Barrymore’ comes to Aspen stage | AspenTimes.com

‘Barrymore’ comes to Aspen stage

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado
Graham Northrup

ASPEN – Before there was Drew, there was John.Or, as the Hudson Reed Ensemble puts it, before their was Olivier, and before there was Brando, there was Barrymore.The Aspen theater company presents “Barrymore” this weekend in Aspen. The play by William Luce features Kent Reed as John Barrymore, a stage and screen actor of the early 20th century whose rise to superstardom and subsequent decline is the stuff of a legendary Hollywood tragedy.”He was a tremendous talent, but because of the influence of Hollywood, his drinking, he plummeted from the top,” said Reed, who found himself drawn to Barrymore’s story.The Hudson Reed Ensemble had originally intended to stage “The Trial,” by Harold Pinter, but casting conflicts forced Reed to regroup, and he came across “Barrymore,” which is essentially a one-man play, though a second character, a stage manager (to be played by Lee Sullivan), allows the script to move between soliloquy and dialogue.Reed takes on the role of Barrymore at age 60, when he is no longer a box-office sensation, as the actor rehearses for a comeback. It is 1942, months before the actor’s death.In the play, Barrymore rents an old theater to rehearse his 1920 Broadway hit “Richard III,” sending him on a journey through the highs and lows of his life. The stage manager is there to prompt Barrymore when he forgets his lines (one of his struggles later in life), as the actor moves between the script of “Richard III” and memories of a career that spanned both silent and talking pictures and acclaimed stage roles in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “Richard III.” There were also four wives in Barrymore’s life – all beautiful, fascinating women – according to Reed. And Barrymore was witty, lending levity to the story, Reed said.”Barrymore was an international phenomenon,” Reed said. “If you’re a success in Europe as an American actor playing Hamlet, that’s saying something.”On screen, Barrymore is known for his work in such movies as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1920), “Grand Hotel” with Greta Garbo (1932) and “Dinner at Eight” with Jean Harlow (1933), among others. He came from a multigenerational acting dynasty – his father and grandmother were both respected actors, as were his siblings, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore. Contemporary film star Drew Barrymore is his granddaughter.Reed, who founded Theatre Aspen in 1983, the Hudson Reed Ensemble in 2005 and the popular, summertime Shakespeare in the Park series in Aspen, claims a career that includes television and film appearances as well as theater work.It is easy, he said, to relate to Barrymore’s experiences.”Being an actor, though my acting life is not big, like Barrymore’s, there are a lot of anxieties – not just forgetting lines, just the emotional turmoil that an actor goes through, that I could relate to,” he said.”Barrymore” will touch home for anyone who’s weathered life’s storms, Reed said.janet@aspentimes.com

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