With the May 22 passing of Sir John Gielgud, the world stage lost one of its brightest beacons, not to mention one of its most famous interpreters of Shakespearean roles. As such, it's fitting that the Shakespeare Society will open its fall season with a benefit tribute to the late actor, happening Sept. 18 at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse on East 68th Street in Manhattan.
London-based critic and writer Sheridan Morley will serve as master of ceremonies for the benefit, with notable speakers to include Edward Albee, Keith Baxter, Brian Bedford, Philip Bosco, Zoe Caldwell, Hume Cronyn, Ralph Fiennes, Barrie Ingham, Anne Jackson, Tony Randall, Maria Tucci, Eli Wallach and Robert Whitehead. According to event spokesperson Philip Thurston, the event will also feature video and film clips. (Christopher Plummer was to have attended but is no longer scheduled.)
A non-profit organization devoted to "the enjoyment and understanding of William Shakespeare," the Society has educational programs for both students and teachers, including sending instructors to the Folger Library in DC to "brush up" their Shakespeare. Upcoming events include a lecture by Brown University Professor Arnold Weinstein on "The Hamlet Problem: What's Rotten in the State of Denmark?"
Gielgud was born in London on April 14, 1904, and began his theatre career on Nov. 7, 1921, on the stage at the Old Vic as the Herald in Shakespeare's Henry V. It was a fateful debut: Shakespearean roles were to make up a significant portion of Gielgud's acting credits. He would return to such parts as Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear again and again, making critical and commercial successes out of the productions in which he appeared -- and often directed and produced as well.
"A Shakespearean Tribute to the Late John Gielgud" is sold out. For information call (212) 327-3399 or check out their website: www.shakespearesociety.org. -- By David Lefkowitz