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On the passing of stage greats

March 20, 2008
When a great movie actor dies, there tends to be a rush to screen his films. But when a great stage actor dies, there’s not much you can do besides mourn the performances you missed.

Paul Scofield — by all accounts one of the world’s great actors — died Wednesday. News channels and Web sites paying attention to his passing tended to pull out clips from “A Man for All Seasons,” for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award in 1966.

While that great film will no doubt air soon on TCM (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor), there’s no way to experience his acclaimed stage work as Salieri in the original production of “Amadeus” or as Hamlet, Henry V, or Macbeth.

Scofield’s AP obituary quotes Richard Burton, who said, "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's.” But I’ll have to take Burton’s word for it, having never seen him in his proper habitat.

One of the things we miss here in Indiana is seeing the true greats on stage — and I’m not sure how both audiences and young actors can develop to their fullest without that opportunity. Having seen the likes of Peter O’Toole, Derek Jacobi, James Earl Jones, Uta Hagen, Christopher Plummer and a handful of other true greats, my standards may not have risen, but my understanding of what an actor can do has.

Seeing these performers is one of the reasons why, in my IBJ reviews, you’ll rarely hear me use the word “great.” That’s a superlative I save for very special performers.

Your thoughts? Or care to share a great performance you've seen?
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