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Actors playing actors

‘Memoir’ succeeds in tribute to Sarah Bernhardt


It’s a play with actors acting the roles of actors acting out roles of an actor’s life.

Thanks to the good acting and a colorful actor as its focus, “Memoir” actually succeeds.

The Williamston Theatre’s production of the John Murrell play features Karen Sheridan as Sarah Bernhardt and John Lepard as her devoted attendant, George Pitou. While the infamous and renowned French actress completes the memoirs of her life, Bernhardt cajoles Pitou to portray a variety of characters from her past.

Since Bernhardt’s real history includes relationships with playwrights, poets, painters, nobility and an acting career that took her on world tours, “Memoir” has much to build upon. Anyone who boasted sleeping in a coffin, who had an alligator, monkey, boa constrictor and even an English king as pets, makes an interesting subject for the portrayals.

Sheridan breathes life into the larger than life character. As Bernhardt, she handles endless dialogue with flair and offers a characterization that seems genuine. Her acting never seems stiff, even while realistically depicting a 78-year-old amputee.

Sheridan’s own ease of acting as a celebrated actress is worth celebrating.

As “Memoir” progresses, Lepard’s Pitou increasingly masters his representations of an assortment of Bernhardt’s acquaintances.

The gamut includes male, female, young, old, passive and blunt. With a freshly shaved dome and neatly trimmed ring of silver-colored hair, Lepard’s “impromptu” performances manage to appease his charge and win the audience’s sympathies.

A simple and well-researched set designed by Bartley Bauer features curved latticework reminiscent of the iconic posters Alphonse Mucha created for Bernhardt’s shows. Michelle Raymond’s props include appropriate 1922 items like a Victrola, parasol and shawl. The addition of a skull similar to one Victor Hugo once gave Bernhardt is a brilliant detail.

Sounds of period records, the sea, distant voices and a train, created by Julia Garlotte, add atmosphere and settings. Mary Job’s adroit direction keeps the pace and flow of “Memoir” ebbing and surging to each new enactment and episode.

The two-hour-with-intermission play may be appreciated most by those who know Bernhardt’s history and that of the world in the early 1900s.

The final show of Williamston Theatre’s season is a more cerebral than slapstick play, with moments of heartlessness mixed with lightheartedness.

With its complex conversations, occasionally international interjections and dramatic outbursts, I thought “Memoir” had somewhat of a Shakespearean feel. Since “Hamlet” was one of Bernhardt’s most famous roles, maybe such a feeling was justified. Perhaps, “No man from woman born” would disagree.

“Memoir” Through Aug. 19 Thursdays, 8 p.m., $27 Fridays, 8 p.m., $32 Saturdays, 3 p.m., $29, 8 p.m., $32 Sundays, 2 p.m., $29 Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam Road, Williamston www.williamstontheatre.org (517) 655-7469


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