Editor’s note: On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 6, the day after the great actor Christopher Plummer died at age 91 at his home in Connecticut, the veteran Portland actor and director Tobias Andersen sent an email remembering his own meeting with Plummer in 2010, when Plummer was starring as Prospero at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Andersen was preparing to take on the same legendary role at Clackamas Repertory Theatre in Oregon. We asked Andersen if we could share his story with ArtsWatch readers, and he kindly agreed.
By TOBIAS ANDERSEN
One heckuvan actor died yesterday. A gracious gentleman, Christopher Plummer.
When David Smith-English and I were kicking around thoughts about our upcoming production of The Tempest at Clackamas Rep in 2010, a New York Times review made us realize that the last great classical actor of our generation, Christopher Plummer, had just opened as Prospero at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. We scrambled for tickets, plane reservations, a hotel, and got it all done in time for us to be in Canada ten days later.
I wrote to Mr. Plummer, not expecting any reply but didn’t think it hurt to mention that we were about to start rehearsals for The Tempest, that I was playing Prospero, and we would love to meet him afterwards, if possible. Nothing ventured.
After our flight, checking in, dinner, all that – we were at the theater where I sent another note backstage, saying we are in the audience. We had excellent seats, audience right.
I’ll only mention this about the production – it was terrific, particularly Plummer’s intensely moving Prospero along with the most astounding (four foot, blue) Ariel I have ever seen. A shipwrecked grand piano, half buried in the sand, was the focal point of the setting.
After the performance David and I went around the side of the theater to an asphalt lot at the end of which was a cement landing. About five steps up was a large glass-walled sort of meeting room. A crowd, waiting for autographs, was gathered on the asphalt. Damn the torpedoes; we pushed our way through the crowd, up the stairway and into the room.
Mr. Plummer appeared almost to be waiting for us. He greeted us warmly, immediately asked about our production. We said some things about our theater space, the design, Oregon, etc. We talked about his approach to his character. This prompted him to share with us his concept of Prospero’s relationship to Caliban – an idea I later unashamedly stole. Talking about the character of Miranda, I made mention of my own daughters, to which he proudly said, “Yes, I have a daughter, too.” Indeed. And so on.
By now, I can’t help but be aware that there is a crowd standing beyond that glass wall, probably shooting daggers at us. But Christopher clearly wanted to know all about us and our upcoming production. Finally we said our goodbyes and promised to let him know how our Tempest fared.
As a matter of fact, and six weeks later, it went very well, indeed. I sent him the program and a favorable review from The Oregonian. About two weeks after that, I got a call from Cyndy (Smith-English) of Clackamas Rep. With a breathless voice, she said, “There’s a letter for you from someone named Plummer!” Indeed there was. He had written a lovely card, complimenting our program cover, saying he wished he could have seen our Tempest. Thanked us for coming “all the way” to see his Prospero. And then he wished me “good fortune in the near and far future.”
A class act.