Actress Claire Bloom, currently very much in the public eye as Lady Marchmain in "Brideshead Revisited," turned up at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night for a solo performance in her one-woman show, "These Are Women."
The women in question are Shakespeare's--Lady Macbeth from "Macbeth," Viola from "Twelfth Night," and Juliet from "Romeo and Juliet"--and by gathering together their respective speeches and narrating the events between them, Bloom paints what she terms "portraits." Not all are equally effective, but throughout the evening the handsome actress radiates a well-bred grace and a sure intelligence, captivating on their own terms.
Ironically, although she is of an age to play Lady Macbeth, her interpretation of the "Scottish Clytemnestra" is entirely too discreet and measured to hold the stage. Her reliance on pauses ("What's . . . done . . . cannot . . . be . . . un . . . done.") is excessive and dramatically empty. Bloom fares better as the playful Viola, but the confusions of a plot that depends excessively on disguise and cross-dressing are probably too much for one performer to handle.
However, recreating Juliet, one of her first triumphs on the English stage, Bloom proves her mettle. The years melt away and she is very much that pristine adolescent, who is plunged headlong into a world of adult emotions. This portrait has just what the others lack--urgency and simplicity of effect. Bloom also undertakes the role of the nurse when needed, and the contrast between the starry-eyed youth and bone-weary servant is dazzling.
With Juliet, Bloom's format makes the most sense. Lady Macbeth retreats progressively from the tragedy as it builds to a head, which leaves the actress without much of a climax. But Juliet's story is the story of the play. Bloom has somewhere to go, and consequently this portrait also has the satisfying fullness of a tale well told.
While the actress is possessed of a pleasant, if not particularly striking voice, she has flawless diction and every word registers with effortless clarity. That's one of the secrets. When will our American actors learn? A Shakespearean performer without diction is like a sculptor without a chisel.