Friday, August 10, 2018

From Rectitude to Rapscallion with Patrick Stewart

"TEA. EARL GREY HOT!" Jean Luc Picard is coming back!

The always engaging Patrick Stewart
live on Broadway, circa Spring 2000
Sir Patrick Stewart will reprise his role as the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character, he and CBS announced last weekend. But it's not for a Star Trek, The Next Generation project. It's for something.... beyond.

Word is that a new CBS All Access program will fast forward to Picard's life years after his epic seven-year voyage as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-D, a sort of a Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Generation, and hopefully not one in which he's an elderly man stricken with Irumodic Syndrome.

The prospect of Picard: The Sequel, (eat your heart out William Shatner) is all the more breathtaking when looking back at how far we've come from the prospect of some unknown balding, British, Shakespearean actor becoming the most respected and, arguably, the most beloved of all the captains in Trekdom (and arguably, the best actor to ever regularly grace a Star Trek series.)*

Larger than life, Jean Luc Picard has eclipsed pretty much everything else Stewart has every done. And he's done quite a lot.  Here's a look back at some of his other career highlights:
  • Vladimir Lenin in the TV mini-series, The Fall of Eagles, in 1974
  • Oedipus Rex in a made for television Oedipus Tyrannus, 1977
  • narrator of a one-man rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, seasonally on Broadway from 1991-1995 and again in 2001, with a movie version in between
  • Richard I in Robinhood, Men in Tights the motion picture, 1993
  • Professor Charles Xavier in the Marvel X-Men movies starting in 1995
  • MacBeth, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008
  • A totally different Vladimir -- opposite Sir Ian McKellen's Estragon -- in Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, 2013-14;
  • More than 60 Royal Shakespeare Company productions; and
  • The voice of Poop in The Emoji Movie, 2017
Plus, for about 145 Broadway performances in the Spring and Summer of 2000, he was the libidinous Lyman Felt, in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.

Who?


Well, if Jean Luc Picard was the moral north star of the ST:TNG universe, Felt was his polar opposite. Felt was so un-Picard that if the two characters ever met and shook hands, the energy released by their mutual annihilation might power a starship. Really.

A ticket to 'Ride"
Miller's play opens with Felt, an insurance agent and bigamist, hospitalized after crashing his Porsche on the snowy, titular mountain. He awakens to find Theo, his wife of 30 years, has arrived from New York City.

Leah, his younger, prettier wife from Elmira, is there too.

This from a playwright who had three wives over his 89 years, leaving the first one for Marilyn Monroe.

Now conscious -- and cornered -- Lyman must account for his behavior to the icy, waspish old spouse played by Frances Conroy, and to her passionate rival played by Katy Selverstone.

“A man can be faithful to himself or to other people, but not to both,” he declared, according to a contemporaneous Variety review. Later, according to the same article, Felt likens a man to a 14-room house. “In the bedroom he’s asleep with his intelligent wife, in his living room he’s rolling around with some bare-ass girl, in the library he’s paying his taxes, in the yard he’s raising tomatoes and in the cellar he’s making a bomb to blow it all up.”

Top billing
Unrepentant, he wrings admissions and concessions from those around him. By play's end, Felt's not the only one who's morally compromised.

Refreshing as it was to see Steward playing against Picard-type, shifting from rectitude to rapscallion, the critics were somewhat divided. The New York Times liked it. New York Magazine? Not . After 23 previews and 121 performances, it closed on July 23, 2000, the day after I saw it.

Two months earlier, after shedding his Felt persona for a curtain call, Stewart went full Picard and staged an insurrection. He called out the show's producers -- including the powerful Shubert Organization -- questioning their commitment to the production.

"There are many elements that go into making a Broadway play a success. The casting, the direction, the design, the acting, the play. And in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, we know we have an extraordinary, provocative and vastly entertaining play," the actor said.  "What is also needed is promotion and publicity. People need to be told that a play is out there. Arthur Miller and I no longer have confidence in our producers commitment to this production (especially the Shubert organization) or their willingness to promote and publicize it." 

Their backers were not amused and issued a statement asserting their commitment, "could not be stronger." Dragged before Actor's Equity, our captain, oh captain, apologized, later explaining it was the right thing to do.

* Honorable mentions to Leonard Nimoy, Avery Brooks and Michelle Yeoh.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

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