My “Sightings” column for today’s Wall Street Journal is occasioned by Forest Whitaker’s unsuccessful Broadway debut. Here’s an excerpt.
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Forest Whitaker’s much-ballyhooed Broadway debut in Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” proved to be a resounding flop. The producers announced last week that the show will close early, on Mar. 27, after just 55 money-losing performances. I’m not surprised. Not only is “Hughie” a gloomy, hour-long two-man play, all of which made it a tough sell to the tourist trade, but Mr. Whitaker, justly admired though he is, doesn’t have the kind of name that moves tickets nowadays….
Alas, Mr. Whitaker also failed in a different way: He wasn’t very good in “Hughie.” That didn’t surprise me, either. I’m not saying he isn’t a first-class film actor. The problem was that he made his stage debut—on Broadway, no less—without any significant stage experience.
It isn’t that movie stars can’t act onstage. Quite a few top-tier golden-age screen actors, including Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, moonlighted regularly on Broadway and in summer stock. But they’d started out as stage performers, putting in plenty of time in front of live audiences before moving to Hollywood. Many of today’s TV and movie stars, by contrast, think they can go straight to Broadway without first studying the craft of stage acting…
The problem is that stage acting, unlike screen acting, is a presentational art, one in which performers are painstakingly taught to speak and move in a larger-than-life manner so that they can be seen and heard throughout a large theater without benefit of close-ups or microphones. That’s the opposite of what a film actor does. He plays not to an audience but to the camera, which is usually only a few feet away, meaning that he can act in an unexaggerated, seemingly natural way. Try that onstage and no one in the audience will be able to hear you beyond the fifth row of the orchestra. This explains why screen actors so often give dull performances whenever they venture onto the Broadway stage….
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Read the whole thing here.