Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FLASHBACK: Charles Keating 1987


By Dena Kleiman
New York Times
January 27, 1987

Charles Keating, who portrays the Common Man in the Roundabout Theater's production of "A Man for All Seasons," was standing center stage at a recent performance when a man at the rear of the theater suddenly shouted to him.

"Long live Thomas More!" the man said.

Mr. Keating had just begun his final soliloquy. He paused for a moment, looked out to the man and then solemnly continued. As it turned out, his lines were the perfect response.

As the Common Man, Mr. Keating plays many roles over the course of Robert Bolt's play in which Sir Thomas More (portrayed by Philip Bosco) confronts the perimeters of his personal conscience. Mr. Keating plays Sir Thomas's butler, a tavern keeper, a boatman, the foreman of a jury and - eventually - Moore's executioner.

He is also the only character on stage who, as the play's narrator, directly addresses the audience.

'I Ask the Questions'

In a recent interview, Mr. Keating, who last year was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of the new widower in "Loot," spoke of the special challenge involved in that kind of direct audience contact.

"It's never easiest to go out in the gray and look the animal in the eye," said Mr. Keating, speaking of his relationship over the evening with the audience. "One is desperately exposed. I'm the doorman in this play. I open the door. The heroes and heroines get on with it. But I ask the questions."

Mr. Keating, who is 45 years old, said that as an actor for the past 27 years he has always been aware of that ever-changing gap between performer and audience. In Joe Orton's "Loot," for example, in which Mr. Keating played the role of McLeavy, the widower of a murder victim, he was totally oblivious to his surroundings both on the stage and off. But as the Common Man, he says he perpetually reaches out, knowingly scanning the other actors in the play and studying the audience.

On a recent evening, for example, a man in the front row stood up to leave in the middle of one of the Common Man's soliloquies. Instead of ignoring the man, Mr. Keating followed him with his eyes until he was out of the theater.

Mr. Keating, who was born in London, immigrated as a teen-ager to Canada. He got his first acting job in Cleveland at the age of 19, and has only recently come to the New York stage. He is recognizable to American audiences from his portrayal of Rex Mottram in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED on television and the role of Carl Hutchins in the NBC soap opera ANOTHER WORLD. He has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Chichester Festival and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Breaking the Invisible Wall

But his performance in "A Man for All Seasons" is far from the first time in his stage career in which he has flirted with that invisible wall that divides actor and audience.

In Britain many years ago, he said, when he played the role of Macbeth, a woman in the front row decided to leaf through her program noisily in the middle of an important soliloquy.

"I walked off the stage, continued to recite my lines and proceeded to tear the program out of her hands," Mr. Keating said, adding that he now regretted having gone that far.

He said there was another time, too, when he played the role of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. He was just about to embark on that famous speech "Friends, Romans, countrymen," when he noticed a man in the front row who was following the play in a book. It so distressed him that the man's eyes were not glued on him that, once again, in a rage he began to descend from the stage.

"I was ready to tear that book out of his hands," Mr. Keating recalled. But then just as he was about to reach for the book, Mr. Keating said he realized that it was in Braille.

"Thank God I noticed," Mr. Keating said.

Of the Common Man, Mr. Keating said the role requires contact with audience members and as such offers that extraordinary quality of "immediacy."

"I get to share the evening with them," he said. "It's the essence of it. When you feel an audience get that wrapped up, it's a wondrous thing. When we breathe together. These moments . . . it's when I know why I'm in the theater."

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