Los Angeles Theater Review: A WORD OR TWO (Ahmanson Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on January 24, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

WHEN A WORD OR TWO WILL NOT DO

A Word or Two is an apt title for Christopher Plummer’s solo show about Christopher Plummer and Christopher Plummer’s love of language. He wants to celebrate language in all of its “infinite variety, majesty, and beauty.” His love of language gave him an escape early in life, he tells us, and certainly attracted him to the theater. But his road to acting is paved with gaping holes: We learn that his Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”  at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.mother, a WWI nurse, saved him from some drunken escapade, and the next thing we know he’s saying, “The first time I did Hamlet…” With a seven-decade career, the Canadian thespian’s life is no doubt chockablock with vivid accounts of life upon the wicked stage, but he chooses to skirt around his life with surfacy anecdotes, tidbits, and literature delivered with glibness, flair, and gorgeous intonation.

The little we learn about this monumental presence is sandwiched between quips both familiar and lesser known from Shakespeare, Wilde, Levant, Auden, Nash, Milne, et al. But we get neither page nor paragraph from the man so identified as Captain von Trapp. Instead, this outing supplies a word or two over and over and over to the point of arousing my ambivalence, making the snippet-filled 80-minutes one-note, especially under Des McAnuff’s banal direction, which has the Plummer walk around aimlessly except to find his light and some props, the latter being unnecessary had he supplied emotion.

We get all the mannerisms of a grand seigneur of the theater, which fills the Ahmanson nicely and keeps this trifle from being boring, but little soul-baring, which keeps us disconnected. Had he expounded on the story which had him listening to Dylan Thomas jabbering at the White Horse Tavern in the West Village, perhaps the Welsh poet recitation would not have been draggy. Other times, his irreverent air inadvertently deprecates the literature he loves.

Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”  at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.There are fiendishly funny aspects, but the devilish limericks, and modern vernacular with Valley Girl articulation (“It was totally gross”), don’t stick because of the show’s contextual flaws. Plummer’s writing elicits cheap chuckles until we realize his metaphor-rich wordplay is incongruous with the linguistic masters so often spouted. Illuminating his Sagittarian nature to forge ahead, he claims: “I paced the halls of my mother’s womb waiting for the light to turn green.”

Robert Brill’s gorgeous set has as its centerpiece a spiraling staircase of books worthy to be on permanent display at a museum. Michael Walton’s lights shimmer beautifully throughout, but Sean Nieuwenhuis’ multi-media (words, weather) are projected onto a papyrus-like backdrop late in the show for no reason, and Michael Roth’s music is equally higgledy-piggledy (a few times, I thought a cell phone was playing tinkling compositions). Where was McAnuff?

Patrons may give a standing ovation to acknowledge the great actor’s career and lucid energy at 84, and philologists may have a field day at this event, but without insight A Word or Two is just a lot of words.

Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”  at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.photos by Craig Schwartz

A Word or Two
Center Theatre Group
in association with
the Stratford Festival of Canada
Ahmanson Theatre
scheduled to end on February 9, 2014
for tickets, call 213.972.4400
or visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

{ 1 comment }

Eve Meadows February 4, 2014 at 3:18 pm

I agree with you totally, Tony!

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