The Playgoer: Brits vs Yanks: take 2

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Brits vs Yanks: take 2

Bay Area critic Chloe Veltman offers a bit of a riposte to Charles McNulty's essay from February examining why indeed the old saw may be true that the English actors are just better than Americans--on film, at least--and that the reason is their stage training.

Veltman--an expat limey, herself (and I mean that in the best possible way)--doesn't disagree so much as fill out the picture and make a stronger case for the current state of American acting. Money quote:

Performing in generally smaller films with more carefully crafted scripts and deeply developed characters, British actors prevailed at the Oscars this year for good reason. Unlike many U.S. performers, they actually got to act. To see a true performance by a great American actor often requires looking beyond the mainstream: Seeing Willem Dafoe do his Green Goblin impersonation in the “Spider-Man” franchise is one thing; watching him embody Smithers in the Wooster Group’s production of “The Emperor Jones” is quite another. I don’t have to tell you which is the more satisfying experience.

It’s unfortunate that Hollywood and Broadway have come to stand for American acting, when much of the real talent lies beyond, in nonprofit theaters like Berkeley Rep and Chicago’s Steppenwolf. From Liev Schreiber’s careening Hamlet at New York’s Public Theater to Steven Epps’s deliciously vile Harpagon in the Minneapolis-based Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s “The Miser,” American actors consistently match their British counterparts in the classics. Meanwhile, experimental and new play companies like New York’s Mabou Mines and San Francisco’s Campo Santo continue to nurture bold performance talent.
I think this is all absolutely right. The American entertainment industry does a disservice to the Art of American Acting. No news there, I guess...

PS. For Stephen Fry's own witty take on Americans mistaking British accents for good acting, see here. (Hat tip: J. Kelly)


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

It's one of the reasons why I make the Steppenwolf one of my regular theatergoing experiences. Exceptional acting all around.

J. Kelly said...

Don't know if you saw Stephen Fry's comments on this recently:,,2038100,00.html

Playgoer said...

Yes, thank you, J. I did see that Fry quote, but couldn't locate. Very appropros. And oh so witty, of course...