Philip Goodwin may be from Maine, he may live in New York, and have trained in England, but around here, he’s a Washington actor.
Goodwin feels the pull himself. “I have some of that New England reserve, I supposed, and I was cast in Shakespeare plays a lot because of my training, and I live New York, which I love, but sometimes, this is like home to me, a second home, but home.”
And he’s back.
He has a classic theater role, doing a one-man show about the gregarious, brilliant, biting British theater critic Kenneth Tynan in—you guessed it—Tynan (most recently extended through February 13 at the Studio Theatre).
Tynan is something new for Goodwin, a one-man show, alone with a chair and a glass of water on a mostly stark stage. “That glass of water is heaven-sent, let me tell you,” Goodwin said.
“I just felt, perhaps, that it was something I should do,” Goodwin said, sounding like someone saying ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’. “I’d never done one before, and I thought maybe it was time.
“I will admit, I was a little scared. It was daunting, the whole idea. You do Shakespeare and you’re in a company, a group, a family. You have people to play off, to help and support so you’re never really alone on the stage. This is being really alone.”
“Plus, there are the words, lots and lots of words, an army of words.” But, these are Tynan’s words, and they’re choice. Tynan is a play by Richard Nelson and Colin Chambers, but it’s based solely on “The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan” as edited by John Lahr. The diaries were kept regularly during the last ten years of his life. Tynan died at the age of 53 from the effects of emphysema.
“Tynan was a gifted writer,” Goodwin said. “His writing was just … well … exquisite. He was brilliant. So you feel this tremendous responsibility to do the words justice, to not screw it up.”
“I think perhaps people forget just how influential he was,” Goodwin added. “He was contradictory, to be sure. Complicated. Gifted. Sharp and maybe one of the most intelligent people in theater. He championed new work.”
In his diaries, he was also a great storyteller, and Goodwin is particularly adept at maintaining that pose of hauteur that Tynan often strikes even while saying the most vulgar thing, somewhat like a Frenchman making “merde” sound sweet. It turns out that Goodwin becomes a good story-teller, too, as Tynan recounts a disastrous vacation in Spain, first with his spanking companion, then with his family.
Goodwin no doubt studied and read the diaries to no end. He is known to be a stickler for getting details right while letting his characters’ emotions fly. He’s had challenging parts before, and in his work at the two mainstays of his career in Washington, he’s given us plenty of Shakespearean kings—Richard II, King John, Leontus of The Winter’s Tale, Henry VI in Michael Kahn’s concise and daring condensing of the four parts of Henry VI into one. He once played the fool in a production of King Lear by having him wheel around in a little cart sans legs. And it is clear that were it not for Goodwin, Washington audiences would never have seen Timon of Athens, the one play of Shakespeare’s that seems never to be performed anywhere. Kahn reportedly said he would not have done it had Goodwin not played the part. It won Goodwin his second Helen Hayes Award, (Best Lead Actor, 2001).
He played Malvolio, the butt of all jokes and cruelty in Twelfth Night, and, for once, gave him a size equal to the part, humanized the character to the point where you could feel a reluctant empathy with an otherwise vainglorious fool.
He has played the devil. Literally, or a least on stage, in the Studio Theatre production of The Seafarer, which finds this jaunty, insistent version of god’s opposite trying to claim a soul promised to him by playing poker with three drunk Irishmen passing around a bottle of potent Irish whiskey. Which may go to show you that the devil is no smarter than the rest of us?
The years of his Washington career reache back to the 1980s, and, with some breaks, has continued. “I have a lot of friends here,” he said. “I love coming here. Ted and Fran are in “Cymbeline” right now and it’s good to see them.” Ted and Fran being Ted Van Griethuysen and Franchelle Stewart Dorn, old pals and fellow Helen Hayes Award winners.
Goodwin often plays flamboyant characters—Tynan, of course, Richard Two and the devil—but seems if not exactly reserved, not so noisy a presence. “It’s the New England part of my personality,” he says. Floyd King (another friend and fellow actor) whenever he has to explain some of my character traits just says ‘he’s a man of Maine’. It would take me at least a trilogy to explain Floyd.”
Goodwin mourns the loss of “Law and Order”, the popular television crime series which was filmed entirely in New York, where Goodwin lives with his partner in Chelsea. “It was a source of television work for many New York stage actors,” he said, “including me and many of my friends here.” Goodwin, like his friends vied for parts in movies that were filmed on the East Coast. “’The Pelican Brief’ was a gift,” he said ruefully. “I had a part but it was cut from the movie. Fran was in it. Stanley Anderson had a role.”[ The film also included DC actors Richard Bauer and Tom Quinn.
For now, Goodwin is back in his second home, making himself memorable again.
In his straight-ahead way, Goodwin embodies Tynan like a second skin, makes you hear and see him, in point of fact, and resurrects him as Tynan moves toward the dying of the light, all guns blazing.