Devita honors actors through his own story and Shakespeare’s

By - Mar 28th, 2011 04:00 am
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photos courtesy DeVita and Clarissa Dixon

Jim DeVita

Jim DeVita walks silently from behind the audience onto the stage, makes eye contact, picks up a cane and exhales slowly. He bends his arm, hoists his shoulder, bends one knee, twists a foot and becomes Richard III revealing his ambitions. This is a critical, difficult soliloquy; DeVita has mastered it.

In Acting Shakespeare makes the case for DeVita’s vision of theater: “A bare stage – with only the words and an audience wanting to hear the words; when what is said is understood and honest.”

Devita grew up in a working class community on Long Island, New York, and discovered theater almost by accident. He determined to become the “Gene Kelly of acting” – to connect with the working man and to be “a normal guy who happens to speak poetry.” You don’t hear the iambic pentameter in his Shakespeare. DeVita has become that actor who can communicate and move an audience with his affection for Shakespeare’s words. As DeVita shares his personal journey, he peppers the evening with some of Shakespeare’s greatest passages.

As a young man working on a large charter fishing boat, he tried one more time to explore another vocational choice. He saw renowned Shakespearean Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf to some of us) perform on a New York stage. Much later, armed with permission to use McKellan’s material and the show’s title, DeVita created this performance. It morphed into a more personal story – as much about DeVita as it was a selection of great works. Most of the evening is about his journey from blue-collar worker to actor to consummate actor.

The production comprises a crate, a chair, a briefcase and a cane. The crate becomes a desk, a platform for exposition and a boat in a storm. His coat, draped over the crate, serves as a piece of leather worked by a young William Shakespeare. Draped over a chair, the coat is a young DeVita counseled by a teacher. Wrapped around his waist, it becomes the skirt of a voice teacher. Lighting and soundscape frame the dramatic excerpts or evoke a New York City audition.

The focus is on words, particularly how insights in Shakespeare’s words fit DeVita’s personal story. He draws a parallel between Shakespeare’s efforts to craft his words and DeVita’s struggle to move past an accent ingrained from his background. DeVita expressed some discomfort about shedding his New York accent, but celebrates the ability to give voice to a variety of characters through his mastery of speech.

Wisconsin is central to DeVita’s story. He honed his craft at the Professional Theater Training Program (PTTP) once at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has acted at Spring Green’s American Players Theater for 15 seasons. This show premiered in 2009 as the inaugural production APT’s indoor Touchtone Theater. (A quick slap to the neck interrupted his reminiscence of APT. An audience familiar with the outdoor APT got the joke.)

In Acting Shakespeare is a backstage view of theater, a vivid, funny and inspiring story with magical images drawn at just the appropriate moments from Shakespeare’s rich catalog. This is an opportunity for any patron of theater seeking to better understand the art or for those new to theater to witness it at its best.

In Acting Shakepeare is a Renaissance Theaterworks production. The show runs through April 17 at the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, 414 291-7800. The performance can be sampled online here.

Categories: Theater

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