The mystique of that great but dissipated, fascinating but uncontrollable actor, John Barrymore continues. Not only did mercurial English performer Nicol Williamson bring his solo, Jack: A Night On The Town, to Broadway last year (only a few years after Williamson played Barrymore in the spoof, I Hate Hamlet), but Christopher Plummer has his own Barrymore solo on the Great White Way this season. Now a third Barrymore solo is on its way, this one on the other coast.
Opening tonight, April 16, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Jason Miller appears in his own Barrymore's Ghost at Seattle's Empty Space Theatre. This new drama was originally written for Stacy Keach, who had to take an assignment in Europe before the project was completed. As for taking the part on himself, Miller said, "Sometimes the actor [in me] wouldn't talk to the writer. Sometimes the writer said, `Get me Stacy Keach! You stink!'"
Miller hopes his version of Barrymore's bio won't stink, especially since it required so much research: "It's a six-hour miniseries," he said. "But seeing the central character as a ghost helped focus the piece. The ghost demands suspension of disbelief at the very beginning of the play. It takes the story out of the literal [and] gives me latitude to work out my own selection of myths and facts."
Directing this tale of "The Great Profile" (who lived 60 years before succumbing to an alcohol-fueled end in 1942) will be Rod Pillaud. This new work was developed at small theatres and college campuses along the east coast -- which is where it came to the attention of Empty Space artistic director, Levi Lee. Designing the show will be Carey Wong (set) and Rick Paulsen (lighting).
Author Miller won a Pulitzer for That Championship Season and serves as artistic director of PA's Scranton Public Theatre. The Empty Space theatre is best known as the first space outside to stage productions by David Mamet, back in the mid-1970s. For tickets ($14-$24) and information on Barrymore's Ghost, running April 11-May 17, call (206) 547-7500.
--By David Lefkowitz