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ASIDES: For the Wyn

Fourth Time’s the Charm for Geraint Wyn Davies and STC

By Drew Lichtenberg, Production Dramaturg, from ASIDES

It can be dangerous to have brunch if you’re Geraint Wyn Davies. One recent morning, at a favorite Capitol Hill haunt, the veteran of stage and screen was partaking in some breakfast when he was interrupted.Wyn_Davies_Geraint

Three different times.

By three different fans.

Who recognized him for three different roles.

Wyn Davies laughs. It has been quite a ride. The actor, born in Swansea, Wales, began his career in England before settling in for a decade-plus run as a member of the ensemble at Canada’s Stratford Festival, where he estimates he has performed in “24 or 26” of the plays from Shakespeare’s 36-play canon. He has also frequently been featured on Canadian and U.S. television, and his deep backlog of roles causes fans to recognize him as “that guy” from shows both cult and blockbuster.

Ethan McSweeny is inordinately fond of the actor he calls “Ger.” (The correct pronunciation of the name, one of the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table—the Welsh one—lays the stress on the first syllable, with the second syllable rhyming with “pint.”) “It was a great joy that Geraint turned out to be available,” McSweeny said before rehearsals began. “He is a mainstay at Stratford, and we’ve worked side-by-side at the company several times, though never before on the same show. Prospero is at the center of this play and you need an actor who can play this ingenious, industrious, versatile, self-aware character.”

This is the fourth time Wyn Davies has come to STC, and he has fond feelings for the company where he won a Helen Hayes Award in 2005 for his turn as the title character in Cyrano and a Helen Hayes nom for his stint as Don Armado in Michael Kahn’s 60s-themed Love’s Labor’s Lost, a production that also performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In fact, during that 2006 stint in Washington, Wyn Davies was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. “We needed somebody last minute, because my green card was expiring,” Wyn Davies says, “and we were going over to Stratford-upon-Avon with Love’s Labor’s. By the time I came back, it would have been expired and there would have been a huge kerfuffle. I mentioned it to a board member, who very casually said, ‘Oh, I know someone who might be able to help.’” The friend? Washington’s biggest Shakespeare fan herself, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

So, what were the three roles in which those dogged fans at brunch recognized him? One was Nick Knight, a thousand-year-old vampire turned Toronto private detective from the much-beloved Canadian series Forever Knight. “It was one of the first vampire shows,” Wyn Davies says, “many years before it became this huge Hollywood genre.” The second? James Nathanson, the terrorist-abetting turncoat CIA agent from the fifth season of the smash-hit 24. The third was from the much-beloved cult series Slings and Arrows, in which many of Stratford’s finest actors appear in a location that looks suspiciously familiar.

Contrary to popular belief, and unlike his incurably pompous, director-baiting (and ill-fated) Sling and Arrows character Henry Breedlove, Wyn Davies did not perform his most famous speech from The Tempest for the entire company before the first day’s read-through.

GERAINT WYN DAVIES Reflects on Previous Star Turns at STC

Cyrano, Cyrano       

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Wyn Davies as Cyrano. Photo by Richard Termine.

“There’s a story there. Michael Kahn came to see me play Edmund opposite Christopher Plummer in King Lear at Lincoln Center. Stacy Keach was going to play Cyrano, but he had to drop out because of a last-minute injury. Michael remembered me and offered me the part. Three gentlemen cornered me in my dressing room with a glass of wine—Christopher Plummer, Kevin Kline and Len Cariou—and said that I would be a hack if I didn’t do it. That’s also where I met my wife, Claire Lautier. She played Roxanne. She also played the Princess of France in Love’s Labor’s and Lady Anne in Richard III. And she was also taught by Michael Kahn.” 

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Wyn Davies as Richard III. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Richard III, Richard III

“That play is Shakespeare having a great romp. I don’t think he agonized over Richard’s evil. The darkness of it comes out of the results of Richard’s actions, not out of the way he goes about them. I think Richard has the best relationship with an audience of any Shakespearean character. The play is basically his dialogue with the audience, with interruptions. Characters come on, and he manipulates them, but he spends most of the play talking to his only friend, which happens to be the audience. He is amazingly at ease with himself. I remember taking off the makeup at the end of each show and saying, ‘That was fun.’”

Don Armado, Love’s Labor’s Lost

“Michael’s concept was brilliant, with the girls riding around on their Vespas, and Amir dressed as the Maharishi. I played Don Armado as a cross between Salvador Dali and Benny Hill.as Don

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Wyn Davies as Don Armado, with Nick Choksi. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

We played at the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon, which was great. Two things happened during our opening performance: one was during my first entrance. I tore the crotch completely out of my trousers. And then I lost half my moustache. I just put my finger where my moustache was, and played the rest of the scene that way: crotchless and half-moustachioed. I think I made up a line saying ‘Half a moustache is better than no moustache at all.'”

 Prospero, The Tempest

“He’s such an observer. He has other people do his bidding, and then he basically comments on it. He’s almost like a reviewer, or a critic of his own life. Ariel comes and reports to Prospero and he then takes that and writes over it. He’s rewriting his own story, commenting on it in front of the audience. Everybody else in the play is active, but as Prospero you have to watch and think.

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Wyn Davies as Prospero. Photo by Scott Suchman.

This is the third time I’ve done The Tempest, but I’ve never quite realized the challenge that Prospero poses to an actor. He’s not like Richard in his relationship to the audience. He’s not speaking to you, he’s speaking to the cosmos, to the spirits in another world, to Ariel. Really, he’s talking to himself, in a way.”


 

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest runs through January 11 at Sidney Harman Hall.

 

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