1501 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
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By Celia Wren
Friday, January 21, 2011; 9:46 PM
Glimpse actor Philip Goodwin sitting quietly on a sofa, in an out-of-the-way nook at the Studio Theatre, and you'd never guess at his current alternate identity as a flamboyant provocateur. The 56-year-old performer - a Broadway veteran and multiple Helen Hayes Award winner from his many turns on D.C. stages - is wearing a black suit, a sober blue tie and a white shirt that nearly matches his silvery hair. His voice is soft; his demeanor reserved.
But in "Tynan" - a one-man show running at Studio through Feb. 6 - Goodwin plays an ostentatious genius and social whirlwind who happened to be the grenade-lobber of modern theater criticism. The dazzling British prose stylist Kenneth Tynan went to bat for writers like John Osborne and Bertolt Brecht and, in doing so, helped steer the course of 20th-century drama.
In the pages of the New Yorker, the Observer and other publications, Tynan made pronouncements that were brilliant and sometimes cruel. Vivien Leigh, he wrote, approached the role of Cleopatra "with the daintiness of a debutante called upon to dismember a stag." Orson Welles's Othello "waded through the great speeches, pausing before the stronger words like a landing craft breasting a swell."
A gaudy dresser who at one point favored gold satin shirts, gold velvet ties and a purple doeskin suit, Tynan burst into journalism at a young age and later served as literary manager for Britain's renowned National Theatre. He devised the infamous 1969 erotic review "Oh! Calcutta!" and, on a personal level, he had hang-ups and secrets, struggling with insecurity and a stammer, and indulging a sexual fetish - spanking.
Tynan encompassed "a lot of things I thought it would be difficult to live with, difficult to reconcile," Goodwin says, explaining his interest in the part. "He was complicated. And to actually dig down deeply to a character like that is a huge challenge."
An additional incentive was the fact that Goodwin had never tackled a one-man show. "I had this strange idea in my head that it's something that every actor should try," he says.
A New York-based actor who considers the District his "artistic home," Goodwin has appeared at Studio in shows like "Ivanov" and "The Play About the Baby." A Shakespeare Theatre Company affiliated artist, he landed the Helen Hayes Awards for his roles in a 1989 "Twelfth Night," a 2000 "Timon of Athens" and 2006's "An Enemy of the People." Most recently, he played Malvolio in the company's 2010 Free-for-All "Twelfth Night."
"Philip Goodwin is one of the finest American actors," says Joy Zinoman, who recruited him to "Tynan" before she relinquished her post as Studio's artistic director. She speaks of Goodwin's "sophisticated mind" and "monklike discipline," recalling that the first time she directed him - in Gilles Segal's drama "The Puppetmaster of Lodz" in the early 1990s - the actor not only mastered puppetry but took to lugging one of the production's key manikins home every evening in a green garbage bag.
"That kind of dedication to the work, that he was going to spend 24 hours a day with this puppet and make it part of his life" impressed her hugely, Zinoman says.
Across town, Shakespeare Theatre Artistic Director Michael Kahn says he wouldn't have programmed "Timon" and, in the late 1990s, "King John" had Goodwin not been available for the title roles.
"He's got a great deal of equipment, in terms of his voice and his body and an ability to play different styles," Kahn says. "But he's also very, very smart - thinks very hard and often quite unconventionally about parts."
Kahn cites the time he cast Goodwin as the Fool in "King Lear," and the actor hit on the idea of playing the character as a double-amputee who scooted about on a wagon. "It was a wonderful contribution to the show. And Philip is like that all the time," Kahn says.
Goodwin is "a national treasure" raves Brian Kulick, artistic director of New York City's Classic Stage Company, where Goodwin will be performing in March in "Double Falsehood." When casting certain critical Shakespeare roles, Kulick adds, "Philip is the first person I think of, because he brings that tremendous humanity and poetry and life to things."
Although many of Goodwin's credits are classical, it was a Woody Allen comedy that hooked him on the limelight. Growing up in Maine, he auditioned in a high school auditorium for a production of "Don't Drink the Water." Hearing "the sound of my own voice echoing off the back walls," he recalls, made him realize how powerful vocal expression could be. He went on to major in history at Bowdoin College but subsequently studied acting in London and kicked off his professional career with the Acting Company, the American touring classical troupe.
Unmarried, with no children or pets, he lives with his partner in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood in a home boasting a modest assortment of art and knickknacks. To burnish the collection, but also for fun, Goodwin spends his spare time poking around flea markets, antique shops and eBay. He's particularly pleased with his recent purchase of an ashtray to match a crazily colored porcelain cat he happens to own. ("Maybe the cat wants to smoke sometime," the non-smoking actor points out.)
Visiting museums is another hobby - one that's particularly easy to satisfy during his frequent stays in Washington. The National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are particular favorites, although he notes that last time he was in a show at Studio, he managed to visit the Textile Museum twice.
He also likes to read, especially history: Adam Nicolson's "God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible" is next on his list. As for perusing his own reviews: After receiving a few that rankled - "Doesn't everybody remember the stinging things in their lives?" - he has taken to avoiding them.
Were Tynan slinging the ink, of course, it might be different. "Tynan's writing was fantastic," Goodwin says, theorizing that the British virtuoso might flourish on the current Internet-chiseled critical landscape. While deeply discerning, Tynan's reviews brimmed with "that sense of showing off," Goodwin says. "That's what blogs are for. Look how much I can score off somebody else - how clever I can be!"
Of course, "Tynan," first performed by Corin Redgrave in England in 2004 and directed for Studio by Paul Mullins, is no mere portrait of a journalist. Dramatists Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers adapted the script from the diaries Tynan kept during the last decade of his life, and the play chronicles the writer's battle with the emphysema that would kill him.
Also included: Tynan's now-wistful, now-sardonic, always eloquent reflections on John Gielgud, "Larry" Olivier, Schubert, California carwashes, sex and spanking, C.S. Lewis, marriage, the wonders of driving a Jaguar and more. "Tynan" is a kaleidoscope of luminously phrased thought - but its real strength, Goodwin emphasizes, is that "it's about a life."
Wren is a freelance writer.
'Tynan': A show to please the critic
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 27, 2011
The one-man show "Tynan" at Studio Theatre is based on the great British theater critic Kenneth Tynan's diaries of his final decade - he died in 1980, only 53 years old. Listening to his pronouncements on art is like hearing a man rant about a land where he used to be king.
"The critic's job - at least 9/10ths of it - is to make way for the good by demolishing the bad," Tynan wrote, a sentiment that makes its way into the fluid 90-minute stage adaptation by Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers. "I wish I were back at work bulldozing."
Philip Goodwin, who has played his share of kings, gives this line the regal treatment, but it's a rare display of Tynan's nearly unparalleled critical ferocity. The greater part of Goodwin's surgical portrayal is in cooler tones of mischief, disgust and melancholy; acting on a bare platform, with a lone chair from which to pontificate and with the Metheny Theatre's blasted back wall behind him, Goodwin delivers a brilliant mind not so much exiled as lost.
The wintry mood suits the play's theme of decline. The period of "Tynan" is the 1970s, and Tynan hadn't been a working critic since 1963. As this chronicle begins, he's nearing the end of his tenure as the Royal National Theatre's first literary manager, and though he still rates the odd plum magazine gig from the New Yorker, he lacks a steady platform for the ravishing and lacerating writing that made him famous. This Peacock (Tynan's middle name) plainly pines for the limelight.
Here's the shame: If you are familiar with Tynan, it's likely for the wrong things. Books chronicling his outrageous personality have long been easier to come by than books aggregating his theater writings. His greater reputation, therefore, is as a distinguished naughty boy of the 1960s and '70s - decades when it took some doing to stand out from the randy crowd. The easiest way to explain him is as the man behind the long-running nudie revue "Oh! Calcutta!" and as the unapologetic joker known for his spanking jones (a penchant well-explicated in the play).
Yet he was a splendid stylist, as this adaptation of the John Lahr-edited diaries reminds us. The most theatrical thing about "Tynan" is the gem-cut sentences within which Tynan performed; they are crafty, bravura events, detonations of deadly wit and mordancy. They ought to be heck on an actor - this wasn't playwriting, after all - but Goodwin, whose intellect is generally the first thing about him that registers onstage, is a great choice. He speaks in gleaming tones, admiring the linguistic panache yet effortlessly knifing whatever the hedonistic, acutely observant, relentlessly analytic character doesn't like - including his own disappointed and indulgent self.
Of course "Tynan" is major-league inside baseball, best enjoyed by viewers who already know about Tynan's testy relationship with Laurence Olivier, his bitter exit at the National, his strained marriage with second wife Kathleen and the cruel joke of spending his final years in the sunshine of California, when his carbon-loaded blood and lungs made a mockery of such radiance. (He was a heavy smoker and died of emphysema.) It's a juicy name-dropping play in which John Gielgud gets a few good punch lines via stories retold by Tynan, but no one's going to barnstorm before adoring hordes with this prickly profile.
That's fine: In fact, that's what makes this ruthless, vigorous performance worthwhile. Among other things, Tynan railed against the "vulgar narcissism" of demanding to see only ourselves onstage. "We go to plays to learn about others," he declared, and "Tynan" abides by that. The cold light cast on this subject by Goodwin and director Paul Mullins is Tynan's own, often aglow with wicked enthusiasm and never afraid to be harsh.
Pressley is a freelance writer.
Tynan by Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers. Directed by Paul Mullins. Setting, Luciana Stecconi; lights, Michael Giannitti; costumes, Brandee Mathies; sound, Gil Thompson; projections, Erik Trester. Through Feb. 6 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW.
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Philip Goodwin (Kenneth Tynan) was last seen at The Studio Theatre in The Seafarer. Previous Studio credits include Ivanov, The Play About the Baby, The Lisbon Traviata, and The Puppetmaster of Lodz. Mr. Goodwin has been seen on Broadway in The Diary of Anne Frank, The School for Scandal, and Tartuffe. Off Broadway he has appeared in Cymbeline, Pericles, Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear (with Kevin Kline) for the Public Theater; The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek and A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire at New York Theatre Workshop; Drowning at Signature Theatre; as Henry VI for Theatre for a New Audience (Drama Desk Nomination) and Grace at MCC. He is a company member at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, where he has appeared in many roles including Malvolio in Twelfth Night (Helen Hayes Award) and the title characters in King John and Timon of Athens (Helen Hayes Award). Other Washington appearances include Golden Child at The Kennedy Center and Passion for The Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration. Other regional theatre includes the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Hartford Stage, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Guthrie Theater and Intiman Theatre of Seattle. He has appeared in the films Diary of a City Priest, Men in Black II, The Pink Panther, and The Pink Panther 2, the television adaptation of Hamlet for PBS, and in the television series Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Director and Designers
Paul Mullins (Director) returns to The Studio Theatre, where he directed The Solid Gold Cadillac, The Seafarer, This Is How It Goes, Fat Pig, and The Russian National Postal Service. He is a company member of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where he has directed The Lion in Winter, Noises Off, Private Lives, The Time of Your Life, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Richard II, Illyria, King John, The Illusion, Tartuffe, Rhinoceros, Measure for Measure, and The Threepenny Opera. Other regional work includes Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, and Macbeth at The Old Globe; You Can’t Take it With You at the Chautauqua Theatre Company; The Comedy of Errors at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Twelfth Night at The State Theatre; Third, Trying, True West, and Lettice and Lovage at Portland Stage Company; Reckless, The Swan, and All’s Well That Ends Well at American Stage; A Month in the Country and Summerfolk at The Yale School of Drama; and As You Like It at The Juilliard School.
Luciana Stecconi (Set Designer) recently designed the sets for The Studio Theatre’s productions of In the Red and Brown Water, The Year of Magical Thinking, Stoop Stories, Amnesia Curiosa (created and performed by rainpan43), Souvenir, and Lypsinka: The Passion of the Crawford. She also designed Mojo, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, That Face, A Beautiful View, All That I Will Ever Be, and Crestfall for The Studio 2ndStage. Other regional credits include: Something You Did and Zero Hour for Theatre J; Wandering Alice, created and performed by Nichole Canuso Dance Company for the Philadelphia Live Arts; The Two Orphans and Scenes From An Execution for the Brandeis Theatre Company. Her awards include the 2006 Ira Gershwin prize and the 2010 Mayor’s Art Award for Outstanding Emerging Artist. She received her MFA in Theatre Arts from Brandeis University.
Michael Giannitti (Lighting Designer) has designed 37 productions at The Studio Theatre, including Marcus: Or The Secret of Sweet, American Buffalo, Reasons to Be Pretty, In the Red and Brown Water, Legends!, Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Seafarer, The Road To Mecca, Shining City, The Pillowman, Red Light Winter, Fat Pig, Afterplay, The Russian National Postal Service, Galileo, and Seven Guitars, which earned him a Helen Hayes Award Nomination. He designed lighting for the original Broadway production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and for its pre-Broadway tour which included Arena Stage. He has designed extensively for Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Trinity Repertory Theatre, Capital Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, Weston Playhouse and the Dorset Theatre Festival, where he is Producing Director. Mr. Giannitti has also designed for Chautauqua Theatre Company, Virginia Stage, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Portland Stage Company, George Street Playhouse, Jomandi, Yale Repertory Theatre, Olney Theatre Center and the Spoleto Festival. New York dance lighting credits include Dance Theatre Workshop, Dancespace, The Joyce, The Kitchen and P.S. 122. He has been on the faculty at Bennington College since 1992. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, he taught at the National University of Art, Theatre and Cinema in Bucharest, Romania and at the New Zealand Drama School.
Brandee Mathies (Costume Designer) has designed costumes for The Studio Theatre’s productions of The Year of Magical Thinking, Stoop Stories, The Rimers of Eldritch, A Number, The Syringa Tree, and Comic Briefs. For The Studio 2ndStage, he has designed Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, A Beautiful View, Crestfall, Polaroid Stories, This Is Our Youth. Locally, he was the assistant Costume Designer on Blues for an Alabama Sky at Arena Stage; Spunk at CenterStage; Black Nativity at The Kennedy Center; God’s Trombones and Jelly’s Last Jam at the Howard University Theater. He also served as Assistant Costume Designer for the national tour of A Cry in the Dark. Mr. Mathies has been the Costume Shop Manager at The Studio Theatre since 1997.
Gil Thompson (Sound Designer) designed more than 70 productions at The Studio Theatre over the last 20 years, for which he received six Helen Hays Award nominations. He was awarded the Helen Hayes Award for The Studio Theatre’s Indian Ink. More recently, his work was heard at The Studio Theatre in Superior Donuts, Moonlight, Rock’n’Roll, Grey Gardens, The Road to Mecca, The History Boys, Shining City, The Pillowman, Souvenir, and A Number. He was sound engineer for The Passion of the Crawford, and he also designed lights and sound for Crestfall, directed by Joy Zinoman, for The Studio 2ndStage. Other credits include Black Milk, Far Away, Privates on Parade and The Invention of Love at The Studio Theatre; Angel’s Voices and Children of the Sun at The Kennedy Center and several productions at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. He has also worked at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Source Theatre, Horizons Theatre, Theater of the First Amendment and The Opera Camerata of Washington. He is Production Stage Manager for The Christmas Revels and Resident Lighting Designer and Technical Director for Sidwell Friends School.
Erik Trester (Projections Designer) has designed projections for The Studio Theatre’s The Solid Gold Cadillac, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Grey Gardens, A Number, This Is How It Goes, The Long Christmas Ride Home, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and John Epperson’s Show Trash. For The Studio 2ndStage, Mr. Trester designed projections and sound for Passing Strange, Jerry Springer: The Opera, and Reefer Madness: The Musical! He also designed sound for Marcus; Or The Secret of Sweet at The Studio Theatre and All That I will Ever Be, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, autobahn, Terrorism, and Breath, Boom for Studio 2ndStage. He holds a Masters of Science in Multimedia Systems from Trinity College, Dublin.
Richard Nelson’s plays include That Hopey Changey Thing, Conversations In Tusculum, Frank’s Home, How Shakespeare Won the West, Rodney’s Wife, Franny’s Way, Madame Melville, Goodnight Children Everywhere (Olivier Award Best Play), The General From America, New England, Two Shakespearean Actors (Tony Nomination, Best Play), Some Americans Abroad (Olivier Nomination, Best Comedy). His musicals include James Joyce’s The Dead (Tony Award, Best Book of a Musical), My Life with Albertine, and Paradise Found. He has adapted and/or translated numerous classical and contemporary plays; his films include, Ethan Frome (Miramax Films) and Sensibility and Sense (American Playhouse). Mr. Nelson is an Honorary Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the PEN/Laura Pels Master American Dramatist Award.
Colin Chambers is a former journalist and drama critic who served as Literary Manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1981-1997. With Richard Nelson, he co-wrote Kenneth's First Play and Tynan (Royal Shakespeare Company 1997 and 2004). Chamber’s translations and adaptations include The Learned Ladies (Royal Shakespeare Company), the three Figaro plays by Beaumarchais, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Treasure, and The Mad World of John Maddison Morton. His books include The Story Of Unity Theatre; the award-winning Peggy: The Life Of Peggy Ramsay, Play Agent; The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre (Editor); and Inside The Royal Shakespeare Company. He is Senior Research Fellow in Theatre at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Arguably the greatest theatre critic of the 20th century, Englishman Kenneth Tynan reflects on his life and work. Far past his glory days writing for London’s top newspaper and working under Laurence Olivier at The National Theatre, Tynan shares both outrageous tales and sincere confessions in this brutally honest account of his colorful life. No desire is too personal and no barb too cruel in this no-holds-barred account of what makes a man a legend.
“He’s Got a Way With Words”
Arguably the most influential theatre critic of the 20th century, Kenneth Tynan is without a doubt the most famous theatre critic of his time. Known for his sharp wit and keen insight, Tynan has made an indelible mark in the history of theatre criticism, if not theatre it’s self. Contemporary theatre critic, Michael Billington praises, “Tynan made theatre criticism seem glamorous in a way, I suspect, none of us has done since.”
About Vivien Leigh as Lavinia in Titus Andronicus in 1955:
"She receives the news that she is about to be ravished on her husband's corpse with little more than the mild annoyance of one who would have preferred foam rubber."
About John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in 1956:
“John Osborne spoke out in a vein of ebullient, free-wheeling rancour that betokened the arrival of something new in the theatre — a sophisticated, articulate lower-class. Most of the critics were offended by Jimmy Porter, but not on account of his anger; a working-class hero is expected to be angry. What nettled them was something quite different: his self-confidence. This was no envious inferior whose insecurity they could pity.”
About Jean Giraudoux’s Tiger at the Gates in 1960:
"I cannot but marvel at the virtuosity of Giraudoux's prose. It embraces grandeur and littleness in one gigantic clasp; having carved a heroic group in granite, it can turn to the working of tiny heads on cherry-stones."
About Arthur Miller’s After the Fall in 1964:
“When a society has doubts about its future, it tends to produce spokesmen whose main appeal is to the emotions, who argue from intuitions, and whose claim to be truth-bearers rests solely on intense personal feeling.”
About Laurence Olivier in 1966:
“Every speech, for Olivier, is like a mass of marble at which the sculptor chips away until its essential form and meaning are revealed. No matter how ignoble the character he plays, the result is always noble as a work of art.”
About theatre criticism:
“A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.”
The Life and Work of Kenneth Tynan
Theatre impresario. Taste maker. Spanking enthusiast. Kenneth Tynan is one of the most revered and influential critics of the British theatre. Few critics wielded as much influence or gained as much personal and professional notoriety as Tynan. Tynan championed the playwrights who defined a theatrical renaissance—John Osborne, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard—using his columns to challenge theatrical norms. Actors and directors alike feared reviews by Tynan, who was not afraid to offend. According to prominent theatre critic Michael Billington of The Observer, “Tynan’s gift was to make theatre culturally significant and criticism itself glamorous and sexy.”
In 1952, the London Evening Standard hired Tynan as a critic for both theatre and film. Though only there for two years, Tynan gained a reputation as the boldest literary journalist in England and was quickly recruited to write for The Observer. He crossed the Atlantic and wrote reviews for The New Yorker from 1958 to 1960, but soon returned to The Observer where he remained its theatre critic until 1963. Tynan retired from journalism to join England’s famed National Theatre as its literary manager under Sir Lawrence Olivier. Tynan pushed Olivier to produce more adventurous work and encouraged him to assume a career-defining role as Othello.
Tynan retired from the National Theatre in 1971; in the same year he began keeping his diaries. A life-long smoker, Tynan and his family moved to California shortly after his retirement in hopes of easing his emphysema. While living on the west coast, he resumed writing for The New Yorker. In 1980, at 53, Tynan passed away in Santa Monica, California of pulmonary emphysema.