Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Shannon Revelation

Shannon as Ionescu's Everyman Berenger in The Killer

Sometimes I watch an actor for the first time and I sit up and snap to attention "Who's that?". Their presence is so commanding I immediately want to see everything they have ever done. This has happened to me with Blanchett in Elizabeth, Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass and Emma Stone in Easy A.

And sometimes a performer I was aware of on the periphery of pop culture stuns and moves me with a performance I wasn't expecting. This has happened with a couple of recent Oscar winners; Mo'Nique in Precious and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.

And then there's another level that doesn't happen that often. Someone I had an opinion on, even respect for, stuns me with layers and shades I wasn't expecting that a performance elevates their standing in my eyes. This is what happened a few days ago on a beautiful summer evening when I sat at the new Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn catching Michael Shannon in Eugene Ionescu's The Killer.

The play was fine. It was exactly what you'd expect from Ionescu; an obtuse, absurd rumination on life, sin, salvation, fear and death. Not exactly a fun night out but definitely thought provoking and intense. Shannon matched the play's big themes and intensity with his own intense performance. But he added power, passion and a disarmingly warm presence on stage that invited the audience to join him on the journey.

The performance was so commanding, alive and thrilling I was aware that I was watching something miraculous the whole time. Even when I got lost in the play's abundant and meandering dialogue I never lost the connection with Shannon's transcendence on stage. What a exciting theatrical experience. And it confirmed Shannon as one of the best actors working today.

Shannon is 39 now. I'm guessing he has the respect of his fellows actors. As he enters his 40s I suspect he may get the movie career of someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and become the go to character actor that can lead movies.

Nonetheless he's become one of my favorite actors. I can't wait to revisit many of his movies and look forward to whatever he's doing next.

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