What can I tell you about Woody Harrelson that you do not already know, and very likely know better than I do? Harrelson is a fascinating artist who has had a very successful career in all three mediums of the performing arts, on television, in film and on stage. With his newest work Bullet for Adolf
, which premiered last month at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre
, he has now added playwright and director to his ever-expanding resume and he pens two pages of a brand new play which will be taken up, performed and brought to fruition by the master improvisers of the National Theatre of the World
in their Script Tease Project
, which continues tonight at 8pm at the Theatre Passe Muraille
As someone whose knowledge of film and television is always dramatically eclipsed by my knowledge of theatre, my first-hand knowledge of Harrelson’s work is minimal, and not at all indicative of his talent as an actor. However, I did grow up watching the famed sitcom Cheers at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. Since I was in elementary school, I was drawn more ardently to the broader humour I could understand, that of Carla, the wisecracking waitress, played by Rhea Pearlman (an early comedic hero of mine) and the naive assistant bartender Woody, played by Harrelson, whose lack of comprehension for anything around him was a running gag of constant glee for my six year old sensibilities. Harrelson was on Cheers for eight seasons, from 1985 to 1993, and the show has continued to play in syndication nearly without pause ever since. The next time that Harrelson came on my radar was when he joined the cast of Will and Grace for a handful of episodes as Grace’s boyfriend, fun-loving and rambunctious Nathan. It was during this short stint, actually, that I remember being struck by Harrelson’s ability to play what could be considered a relatively simply constructed character, but to bring a real sense of poignancy at times to the role.
Harrelson’s accolades for his acting talents have mostly come to him from his film career, especially after starring in the Milos Forman film The People vs. Larry Flynt, in which he played the tit;e role, publisher of Hustler magazine, and for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was also featured in such films as Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), Wag the Dog, (1997), The Thin Red Line (1999), Play It to the Bone (1997), The Walker (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2007) among others, for which he and his cast mates won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast. His most highly praised performance as an actor by critics was as Captain Tony Stone in The Messenger (2009) and he was nominated for a Satelite Award, an Independent Spirit Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Academy Award for this film and won the Best Supporting Actor award in the 2009 National Board of Review award ceremonies.
On stage, Harrelson directed his own play, Furthest from the Sun
at the theater de la Juene Luene in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1999. He then performed in Roundabout’s Broadway rivial of N. Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker
in 2000, Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss
in 2001, John Kolvenbach’s On an Average Day
in London’s West End in the Fall of 2002 and in the winter of 2005/2006 he directed the Toronto premiere of Kenneth Longergan’s This Is Our Youth
at the Berkeley Street Theatre
. In 2005 he returned to London’s West End, starring in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana
and recently his play Bullet for Adolph
(co-written with Frankie Hyman) opened to tepid reviews at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto and a commotion over his choice to use non union Canadian actors rather than following tradition Professional Theatre protocol and paying actors, whose livelihood is made in the theatre, in accordance with the union guidelines.
Regardless of the reviews and the union kerfuffle, however, what I think is the most exciting thing about Bullet for Adolph is the choice by Harrelson to premiere his new work in Toronto. He did not march into our city with a ready-made American product, usurping our media from adequately covering our own indigenous work, but instead he came to work within our community and with our community in the creation of something new. Harrelson may be a celebrity as an actor, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience as a playwright or as a director, but I have not heard or read any evidence of him touting himself as having all the answers or as being an expert. He is carving out for himself a new means of self expression, and Hart House Theatre, with its rich history of experimentation, amateur theatre turning professional and its ties to the student theatre there, seems like a perfect venue for him to come in and to learn, just as we allow novice Canadian directors and playwrights to learn, and to take risks and we hope, as theatregoers and artists alike, that the plays we see with potential that aren’t quite perfect, and most of the critics in this city state that Bullet for Adolph has potential, will be continually workshopped to grow and flourish. Harrelson has come to Toronto with respect for our own theatre tradition, one that he would like to be a part of, and his stature within the Hollywood and International Arts Scene is bringing interest and recognition to our theatre community and tradition in this city and that is really wonderful. Similarly tonight, as he lends some of his words to our own beloved professional trio of Canadian superstars, Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson, Harrelson is once again showing that he is interested in connecting and collaborating and engaging with us. This is truly terrific and I truly believe is the best possible relationship that can be forged between Canadian actors and those, not just “from” Hollywood, but actors from everywhere all across the world.
I was sad to miss Bullet for Adolf, being in Halifax at the time, but I found this beautiful poem that Harrelson wrote, which is more indicative, I think, of his environmental activism and his beautiful view of the world. It evokes a spirit of Ginsberg and Dylan and the imagery it conjures is lovely. The National Theatre of the World may be in for some poetry tonight! Heaven knows with Ron Pederson in their midst, the evening would be remiss without it!!
thoughts from within
i sometimes feel like an alien creature
for which there is no earthly explanation
Sure I have human form
walking erect and opposing digits,
but my mind is upside down.
I feel like a run-on sentence
in a punctuation crazy world.
and I see the world around me
like a mad collective dream.
An endless stream of people
move like ants from the freeway
cell phones, pcs, and digital displays
“In Money We Trust,”
we’ll find happiness
the prevailing attitude;
like a genetically modified irradiated Big Mac
is somehow symbolic of food.
Morality is legislated
religion is incorporated
the profit-motive has permeated all activity
we pay our government to let us park on the street
And war is the biggest money-maker of all
we all know missile envy only comes from being small.
Politicians and prostitutes
are comfortable together
I wonder if they talk about the strange change in the weather.
This government was founded by, of, and for the people
but everybody feels it
like a giant open sore
they don’t represent us anymore
And blaming the President for the country’s woes
is like yelling at a puppet
for the way it sings
Who’s the man behind the curtain pulling the strings?
A billion people sitting watching their TV
in the room that they call living
but as for me
I see living as loving
and since there is no loving room
I sit on the grass under a tree
dreaming of the way things used to be
which of course is before the rivers and oceans, and skies were polluted
before Parkinson’s, and mad cows
and all the convoluted cacophony of bad ideas
like skyscrapers, and tree paper, and earth rapers
like Monsanto and Dupont had their way
as they continue to today.
This was Pre-us
back when the buffalo roamed
and the Indian’s home
was the forest, and God was nature
and heaven was here and now
Can you imagine clean water, food, and air
living in community with animals and people who care?
Do you dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down
are you going to make the rich man richer
or are you going to stand your ground
You say you want a revolution
a communal evolution
to be a part of the solution
maybe I’ll be seeing you around
Tonight is the third night of The National Theatre of the World’s Script Tease Project at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto)Tickets are $20 ($15 Students) and I would recommend getting to TPM early as tickets are selling fast. Or reserve yours online at http://www.artsboxoffice.ca. Catch them while you can. The schedule is as follows.
Thursday, May 26th 8pm Woody Harrelson
Thursday, May 26th 9:30 Hannah Moscovitch
Friday, May 27th 8:pm Brad Fraser
Saturday, May 28th 2pm Morris Panych
Saturday, May 28th 8pm Mark McKinney
Sunday, May 29th 2pm Norm Foster
Sunday, May 29th 8pm John Patrick Shanley
Got Splendor? Come see a play that will make you laugh with your heart.