PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Patrick Stewart

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Patrick Stewart He has mixed feelings about it, but Patrick Stewart made his mark on popular culture as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Even as he prepares to return to New York City for an all benefit week of his one-man A Christmas Carol at the Marquis Theatre Dec. 24-30, he's doing it over his three-week break from the tenth Star Trek film, "Nemesis." Fans of the theatre, however, know the actor for his vast range of Shakespearean roles (among them, Titus Andronicus, Prospero, Henry V, Shylock and Othello, in 1997's photo-negative version that cast all black actors around the white Othello). Recently, he brought Arthur Miller's Lyman Felt to Broadway in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (during which he received some heat for publicly criticizing the play's producers) and, in his native Yorkshire, he revived J.B. Priestly's expressionistic Johnson Over Jordan, a drama that hadn't been done for over 50 years. In the production, Stewart's son, Daniel—an actor who appeared in Broadway's Not About Nightingales and is due for an upcoming revival of Betrayal at San Diego's Globe Theatres—played opposite his father as a shadowy masked figure leading Stewart's Robert Johnson through his seemingly worthless life. It was the first time father and son had acted together on stage, although Stewart says, A Christmas Carol has more than a little Daniel in it as he helped his father direct and stage the show the first time Stewart brought it to New York.

Playbill On-Line: What keeps drawing you back to performing A Christmas Carol? Patrick Stewart: For six years, I have been doing A Christmas Carol on stage and I wasn't sure I would do it again. On Sept. 11, I was in England about to open Johnson Over Jordan. It was a very important production, but I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be in New York City, as did my wife, who is from New Jersey. Then a friend just happened to say, "I wish you were doing A Christmas Carol this year" and it planted a seed. I brooded about it for three weeks and all of the sudden it all began to gel. I got permission from Paramount to come to New York and now I'll be in New York where I wanted to be. On Sept. 11, we all felt that feeling of impotence, asking, "what contribution can I make?" I can do A Christmas Carol.

PBOL: And all eight of your performances are benefits with proceeds going to the Coalition for the Homeless and Food for Survival, Inc. and, on Dec. 28, the September 11th Campaign of The Actors' Fund of America.
PS: That will be the most fun! One of the dark ironies of 9/11 is that many charitable organizations have been losing money this year. People have been giving elsewhere—to the Twin Towers Fund, the police and firemen's wives—all worthy causes. But other organizations, while they have more people coming in, have less funds. I also wanted charities that reflected the themes of A Christmas Carol itself—that is, that it is better to give than receive.

PBOL: Had you ever played in A Christmas Carol before you devised the one-man version?
PS: No, not on stage. I did play Scrooge for a Hallmark movie, surrounded by a wonderful cast who played all the parts I normally do.

PBOL: Scrooge isn't the first role you've come back to. You had a second go at George Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? this year at the Guthrie Theatre after you'd done it about 15 years earlier in London. That production almost transferred to the West End, then didn't. Tell me about your journey back to Virginia Woolf. PS: In London, we were playing at the Young Vic, a Fringe Theatre, and negotiating to transfer to the West End. It [Virginia Woolf] had been successful, but there was trouble recasting Martha. While negotiations were going on, I was offered "Star Trek: The Next Generation." I could either wait for the production, which might transfer to the West End or take the television series. I took the TV series. But Virginia Woolf remained unfinished business. I had replaced another actor [in the London production] and had had only two days to prepare. The run was only three weeks and it didn't give me time to live with George. Then while I was doing The Ride Down Mt. Morgan in New York, I overheard David Esbjornson saying he was going to be directing the play. I told him, "We must go out for lunch and discuss this." He asked, "Why, are you interested?" So I told him the whole story. Virginia Woolf was an opportunity to work with great actors and to perform on one of the great stages. I fell in love with the Guthrie and Minneapolis. PBOL: Is there any hope still for the production moving to Broadway sometime in future?
PS: There have been discussions.

PBOL: If not Virginia Woolf yet, what's next for you?
PS: I'm filming "Star Trek 10: Nemesis," then "X-Men 2" in April. In the three weeks between the two, the World Wildlife Fund is flying me to Siberia to do a documentary on Siberian tigers. In 2002-03, I'm going to do a major revival in London.

PBOL: What play is that?
PS: I can't tell you. It's a classic play, but we actors are superstitious about these things.

PBOL: Are there any roles left that you want to play?
PS: We haven't talked Shakespeare yet! I still haven't done the Scottish play. And I just filmed "King of Texas," which is sort of King Lear.

PBOL: I was going to ask when we could expect a King Lear from you.
PS: In England, we have a tradition that you should always do King Lear twice - once when you actually can physically, carrying Cordelia and all that and then again when you are in your eighties and you have the experience. I'd like to do Falstaff; he's the middle-aged man's Hamlet. I haven't done Malvolio or Toby Belch. I've never done Measure for Measure or Antony in Antony and Cleopatra.