Ages of Man
At the Performance Workshop Theatre through April 29. No performances April 5-8.
In the 1950s and ’60s, celebrated Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud performed Ages of Man throughout Europe and the United States. The production, created by Gielgud, highlighted some of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches and sonnets, and the Broadway version won him a Tony award; fellow actor Sir Alec Guinness described Gielgud’s voice, the only one in the production, as “a silver trumpet muffled in silk.”
Now Baltimore’s Marc Horwitz—whose voice is a sonorous, velvety, utterly compelling organ of its own—is doing his own interpretation of Ages of Man, at Hamilton’s Performance Workshop Theatre. It’s a reprise for Horwitz, who first performed in the one-man show in 2009 (and won City Paper’s Best Actor award that year as a result). If you missed the show the first time around, go. It is simply breathtaking, and a rare opportunity indeed. According to Horwitz and director Marlyn Robinson, Performance Workshop Theatre’s 2009 production was the first time Ages of Man had been produced in 50 years, since Gielgud himself last entranced audiences.
The performance, which features 24 Shakespeare roles from both plays and sonnets, is split into two acts, encompassing three of the “ages of man”: youth, manhood, and old age. The set is unadorned—a Persian rug, an armchair—and Horwitz commands the stage alone for the entire two-hour performance. Command he does, from beginning to end of an extremely challenging piece. Horwitz is called upon to abruptly switch from hunched, downtrodden Caliban to cavalier, confident Mercutio; from naive, lovesick Romeo to destroyed, desperate King Lear. He does so with astonishing fluidity and powerful restraint.
The feat of memory Horwitz accomplishes is incredible alone, but his ability to bring all-too-familiar passages back to meaningful life is what makes the performance captivating. There is no false deference to these venerable texts, no faux drama to this Shakespeare. Instead Horwitz’s delivery—and his restrained, eloquent movements—breathe passion back into lines that repetition has dulled in the minds of many. Even Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy, that standby of high school drama classes, reclaims its heft in Horwitz’s capable hands. “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time. . .But that the dread of something after death,/ The undiscover’d country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns, puzzles the will/ And makes us rather bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others that we know not of?” he asks himself thoughtfully, as if the audience were simply listening in on a private revelation. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” he concludes, and Horwitz’s delivery makes the line ring all the more true.
Perhaps the only criticism to be levied against Ages of Man is that at a recent performance the stage lights emitted a distracting buzz throughout the production. When they were occasionally lowered, the silence into which Horwitz delivered his lines was palpable, and preferable. Still, a small price to pay for a powerful, intimate performance.