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Plummer: the Jubilation of Acting

The veteran actor talks about the wit and professionalism of Dame Edith Evans, working with untrained actors, and music as only Shakespeare could write it

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TO borrow a phrase from comedian Billy Crystal, actor Christopher Plummer looks ``absolutely marvelous.'' Fit and energetic, Mr. Plummer sits in a sound studio here in casual clothes talking about untrained young actors, the splendor of Dame Edith Evans on stage, and the glory of Shakespeare as a musician.

Shakespeare? Musician?

``He wrote music,'' Plummer says, his distinct voice in a low, soft register. ``There are elements of symphony in Shakespeare that build and build, and actually go beyond symphony because the plays deal with greatness, nobility, sadness, humor, and comedy all in one package. Writing has as much music in it as Mozart or Beethoven. To me, the use of our language is the highest example of art.''

LAST weekend, Plummer brought Shakespeare's language together with Mendelssohn's music on stage with the New York Chamber Symphony. Reading selections from ``A Midsummer Night's Dream, Plummer, and conductor Michael Lankester, created a whole theatrical presentation rather than the usual narrator and symphony trading emotional moments.

``We lower the lights, a shimmering of strings, and there is Henry V praying the night before the battle,'' Plummer says. ``It's certainly not the whole play, but there is enough substance there to give the author a decent hearing.''

Shakespeare and Plummer became virtually synonymous over the past quarter century. Performing many roles at Great Britain's National Theatre, the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Canada, Plummer earned superlative laurels.

After a l982 production of Othello on Broadway, critic Walter Kerr said Plummer's portrayal of Iago was ``quite possibly the best single Shakespearean performance to have originated on this continent in our time.''

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