‘Barrymore’ Resurrects Troubled Shakespearean Actor On Tavern Stage

Director Andy Houchins and artistic director Jeff Watkins with Lois Reitzes.
Credit Myke Johns / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

One of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th Century is being brought to life at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse.

During the 1920s, John Barrymore was the most celebrated Shakespearean actor in the world.  His triumphs in “Richard III” and “Hamlet” won him acclaim in both the United States and in London, where he influenced an entire generation of Shakespearean actors. Atlanta Shakespeare Company artistic director Jeff Watkins portrays the legendary actor in “Barrymore.”

The show finds the actor, months away from his death from cirrhosis of the liver, as he prepares his would-be comeback with a return to his role as Richard the III. His preparation is interrupted by his failing memory, which leads Barrymore to recount his youth and his storied career.

“He’s trying to cling to former glories,” director Andy Houchins tells City Lights host Lois Reitzes. “This is an evening of him trying to remember that role, trying to get back to that point in his life where he was the most celebrated in the world, and not the end of his life, sort of drunken clown that he came to be known as.”

“Barrymore” runs at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse March 9 – 25.