PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 1-7: Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman and Broadway’s Latest Opening

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07 Feb 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The theatre and film worlds received a unexpected shock this week when actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, a titanic creative force on stage and screen for more than a decade, was found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment, the supposed victim of a drug overdose. He was only 46.

Hoffman had become such a redoubtable omnipresence that audiences and critics expected they had two or three decades more of performances from him coming to them. As it stands, he nonetheless left behind an enormous body of work. In the wave of articles that followed his death, reporters and critics found themselves challenged trying to tally up a list of his best performances — there were so many of them, and nearly all of them good, or, at least, memorable. Every journalist who had followed the man's work for any length of time knew the high level of talent he possessed, but many of those writing up post-mortem assessments of Hoffman's career seemed to find themselves staggering over the idea that the country had very possibly lost its best actor.

Hoffman's achievement was all the more impressive given the raw material he had to work with. Stocky and rumpled, with a pale, pinky complexion and an unruly shock of pale blonde hair, he was no one's typical idea of a leading man. Yet, over his 20-plus-year acting career, he slowly but surely ascended to the status of star, an actor of oddball charisma and intense gravity who could anchor a movie or a Broadway play.

He was also fearless in his choice of roles, more often than not playing characters who bordered, or straight-out dwelled in, the realm of human repugnance. And yet, you couldn't keep from watching him, even liking him. As critic A.O. Scott said, "He may have specialized in unhappiness, but you were always glad to see him."

Hoffman was also rare among actors who made the grade in Hollywood in that he held on fiercely to his theatre roots. He described his habit of doing a play every year as invigorating. Aside from regular roles on and Off-Broadway, he was for many years the co-artistic director of the kinetic Off-Broadway theatre company LAByrinth Theatre Company, a troupe he joined in 1995. Hoffman not only acted in occasional LAByrinth production, but frequently directed. He was particular associated with the gritty, emotional violent work of Stephen Adly Guirgis, a playwright whose career was fostered by the company.

"That kind of level is the best level," he told in 2000, talking about his commitment to small Off-Broadway productions. "You see work you don't see in other things. You're not under the pressure of getting fired. Or of money. Or what's 'expected of you.' There's just the pressure of their peers at the company. That creates an environment where you and your peers challenge each other, push each other to do great work."



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