Stage performances (NY and elsewhere)

Given Lionel Barrymore's reluctance to act (on stage or anywhere, really),  the breadth of his theatrical career is astonishing. Here I'll place some pictures and reviews as I come across them.  It's good reading, fascinating stage history! He "officially" began to act on stage in 1893 in Philadelphia, in a version of The Rivals with his grandmother, Louisa Lane Drew--which lasted exactly two shows, according to him and others. in 1894 he made his Broadway debut with her in The Road to Ruin.

THE JEST: Neri Chiaramantesi 1919 Opened Plymouth Theater, NYC, April 9, 1919--originally ran for 77 performances. Adapted from Sem Benelli's La Cena delle Beffe (The Jesters' Supper) by Ned Sheldon (with additions, interpolations, and ad libs by John and Lionel Barrymore).

Perhaps the most spectacular Broadway play of that year, The Jest found brothers playing against type (well, Lionel more so than John): Lionel played a burly, bombastic, dangerous guardsman who with his brother Gabriel tormented John's seemingly ineffectual Gianetto, a poet, in Medici-era Florence. Neri was Lionel's first real heavy, and he sincerely enjoyed the chance to be the "boss bully of the town", as he wrote.  Reviews were outstanding and Burns Mantle chose The Jest as one of his "plays of the year" for inclusion in his then-new Best of book.


The "Woof! Woof!" kills me...









MACBETH: Macbeth, Thane of Glamis (and later Cawdor) 1921 Opened February 17, 1920--closed after 21 performances. Suffering apparently from weird, unexpected scenery, wild acting (it's Macbeth, come on!), and an uneven if "valuable" performance from LB, this flop disheartened him terribly.  John commented, when Lionel asked him what he could have done, "You've done everything but paint your scrotum green."  LB himself did not consider himself a Shakespearean actor, and did not, as John did, work with an elocution coach--his voice was thought fine enough. But he commented he would have regretted not knowing for sure whether or not he could do Shakespeare.  His thane was not considered appealing enough: "Mr Barrymore's Macbeth is always either a villain or a fool," wrote Edmund Wilson, "He has no dignity as a human figure; he is too gross to speak beautiful lines beautifully..." OUCH. That review follows. I'd have left the stage shortly thereafter too!





However, Macbeth's beautiful soliloquy in Act V, Scene 5, was his favorite bit of Shakespeare and ends We Barrymores:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28
 Hear John Gielgud recite it here: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
 Watch Orson Welles in his Macbeth  film recite it here: (scenery seems to have come from LB's version!) 
 Macbeth's Act V, Scene 5 soliloquy, Welles' film

Macbeth is one of my favorite plays--listening to John Barrymore recite some of it is quite a thrill!

Around minute 27, Macbeth hears Lady Macbeth is dead, and the soliloquy commences :
It's worth a listen, especially at the end. JB always was fine at death scenes on the radio.

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