By Bob Evans
The most celebrated movie heartthrob from the famous Barrymore family recounts his story in a predominately one-man show, Barrymore, at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre for the 2016 Kansas City Fringe Festival that ends July 31.
Charles Pulliam strides onto the stage in the character of John Barrymore, the youngest of the three Barrymore siblings, Lionel, Ethel, and John. The show opens in the twilight of his career at a point when he desperately needs to re-invent himself and move forward. The problem is that many years of booze, failed marriages, sordid affairs, and a bad-boy of Hollywood image have taken their toll.
As Barrymore attempts to run through lines for Richard III for a live performance, he turns to his medicine, alcohol, to help him resurrect the words. Along the way in the run-through, he tells the story of how he rose to fame, fortune, and on to faded glory.
Facial expressions, tone, vocal inflections, hand movement in this piece are artistically crafted by Pulliam. He makes each line important to the character he develops. One could believe him to be the real John Barrymore. He is that good. He takes the audience under his spell within the first few seconds and holds them till his final bow. Pulliam has mastered the charade and image.
To assist him, mostly as a voice off stage, Jacob Nelson, fills the gap and provides clues to Barrymore’s slippage and mental lapses in dialogue. He does appear in a couple of scenes which adds to the concept that Barrymore is, indeed, prepping for a performance.
The two actors react well with each other. Nelson must rely on vocal intonations off stage to deliver most lines and does so with appropriate vocal acting. Together, they cast a spell with Barrymore.
Central Standard Theatre
Barrymore centers on the legendary American actor a month before his death in 1942. John Barrymore spends the evening memorizing lines for a revival of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The problem is his memory is shot. As the evening progresses, Barrymore reminisces with the audience with stories from his past. But he finds himself coming face to face with some of his most deep-seated demons. Charles Pulliam and Jacob Nelson are featured in this Tony Award winning play by William Luce.