Theater Review: APT’s James DeVita claims Shakespeare

Wineke: 'In Acting Shakespeare' is a very funny, powerful play
Theater Review: APT’s James DeVita claims Shakespeare

Actor James DeVita brings his one-person play, “In Acting Shakespeare,” back to the American Players Theatre stage this year, some three years after its first performance here.

The play has something to do with Shakespeare and a great deal to do with the popular Spring Green actor — and both come out surprisingly well.

DeVita wrote the play, which, essentially, is a dramatic autobiography and patterned it after a similar effort by famed British actor Ian McKellen.

It does include DeVita reenacting some familiar Shakespearean roles but the best parts involve DeVita explaining how his life evolved from that of a Staten Island teenager who didn’t much like school and tended to be an introvert to a nationally acclaimed Shakespearian actor who, in his private life, remains something an introvert.

Included are hilarious accounts of DeVita’s life aboard a fishing party boat berthed in New York City.

It also includes a verbatim scene from DeVita’s first play, in which he portrayed a horse in “Equus.” He modestly admits, however, that “I was not the lead horse.”

And, he talks about the magical evening he saw McKellen perform “Acting Shakespeare” as the young DeVita sat on his hands — to diminish the fish smell he believed present — in the theater.

“In Acting Shakespeare” is a very funny play, but it is also a very powerful play.

DeVita’s real message is not that he is a talented guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor; his real message is that Shakespeare’s messages are timeless but they only come through when the actor proclaiming them is doing so through the lens of his own integrity and through interaction with the audience.

I make my living as a preacher and, though my preaching doesn’t have the quality of DeVita’s acting, one thing I’ve learned over the decades is that the biblical message is conveyed not through repetition but through conviction and interaction with the congregation.

On the other hand, the opening night audience for “In Acting Shakespeare” seemed to consist in large part of DeVita’s colleagues and friends, people who know him, love him and are familiar with his stories.

And that meant they caught on to the humor of his lines before anyone else did and, being actors themselves, filled the theater with guffaws at times when the play should have elicited quiet chuckles. People who weren’t in on the story might have felt a bit left out.

“In Acting Shakespeare” is a great piece of work; you probably will enjoy it more because you weren’t at opening night. 

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