Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bill Hamlin

Jane Horwitz gives a nice tribute to Bill Hamlin in her Backstage column at the Washington Post. I met Bill in 2004 when we were both cast in The Seagull at Rep Stage. He played Sorin, the doddering, wistful old man and I played Kostya, the tortured, implosive young man.

At that time, I was going through a tortured implosion of my own, so backstage and centerstage life was oddly congruent. I remember coveting Bill for not being anything like his character. He would gently step into this fretting shell of a man onstage and then bounce offstage to become his vibrant, generous self again.

He possessed that rare brand of unforced gallantry that never has a twitch of Duty or Habit to it. Sometimes his mahogany Radio Voice would boom in to denote a brief dip into self-deprecation. I remember sitting backstage as he talked about his years as a top-40 DJ and thinking the whole time: if I could end up half as satisfied with life as he is ... Then we'd go onstage and he'd transform back into Sorin -- a man whose life tumbled out into a permanent past-tense, whose vitality vanished like a used section of the newspaper. Could there be anyone more unlike Bill?

He was the first person to tell me that great anecdote about Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier: when the former collapsed from the exhaustion of Method work for The Marathon Man and the latter pertly suggested: "Why don't you try acting, my boy?" Night after night, as I flagellated myself into Kostya territory, Bill's anchored, playful turn as Sorin said much the same thing to me: chill the fuck out, enjoy this, the audience isn't here to see you, they're here to see the story. So let's tell it, shall we?

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