Alan Rickman’s death at age 69 brings back memories of the great moments he provided on the two occasions we were privileged to see him on stage in New York. The first time was in 2002 when he and Lindsay Duncan reprised Noel Coward’s oft staged Private Livesand breathed new life into then 70 year old material. To watch him prowl around on stage with Miss Duncan delivering lines with thatvoice that embodied snobbery and sophistication and a touch of world-weariness, was an auditory treasure. In the audience you felt elevated and classy just to be in the same room with his genius. What follows is a review of the second time we saw Mr. Rickman onstage in 2012:
We went to New York last month specifically to see Alan Rickman’s performance in the Broadway Play Seminar. Rickman’s stint playing a has-been writer reduced to tutoring young would-be authors was about to expire.(He has been replaced in the play by Jeff Goldblum.) The sarcastic disdain with which he treats the acolytes’ writing samples is the entire theme of the play. He describes one offering as a ‘soul-sucking waste of words.’. I don’t consider myself qualified to write theater criticism but I do enjoy watching a great stage actor at work. Rickman says he doesn’t deliberately seek out villainous roles, but with his hawk-like nose and lips that seem to be in a perpetual sneer, it is easy to see why he is so believable as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, or the Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood-Prince of Thieves or the mad Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard movie. Then of course there is the voice—described by one New York Times reviewer as “ (a) voice that evokes a slow pour of black molasses.” Or as critic Ben Brantley put it regarding Rickman’s performance in Seminar, “It is … a pleasure to hear Mr. Rickman pronounce “semicolon” with a pinching nasality that turns a punctuation mark into a symptom of terminal constipation.” The same tonal qualities apply when Rickman uses the “f…” word which is frequent in this play. At the end of the performance the audience got up and cheered. So much for hard-to-please New York audiences. The last time I saw an audience in New York cheer was when Christopher Plummer brought his one man show Barrymore to Broadway. One regret about Seminar— the play is staged at the bum-numbing Golden Theatre that seats 800 squished into the narrowest seats on Broadway.
Written by: John Best