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Christopher Plummer at the Ahmanson Theatre

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photo by Craig Schwartz

Who knew that Christopher Plummer could do brilliant standup comedy? One could be confident that the 84-year old lion of stage and screen could perform dramatic renditions of the great works of literature. And one might expect his one-man show at the Ahmanson Theatre, A Word or Two, described as "a love letter to language," to be a respectful recitation of literary highlights.

But this show is much, much more. It is a fanciful, candid and often hilarious romp not only through the milestones of literary and dramatic literature (high and low), but also a powerfully poignant and uplifting journey through Plummer's own remarkable life. From limericks to lyricism, from Shakespeare to S.J. Perlman, Plummer waltzes through the luminaries of the English (and occasionally French) tongue with panache and incredible pep.

Plummer draws on his own Canadian heritage for songs and prose, drawing from his childhood to conjure characters from the streets of Montreal to the frozen Northern wilderness. He is equally versatile in evoking an accent from the American South as from the English Midlands, and is able to fluidly shift tone from tragic to comic and back again. He engages the audience from the moment he appears onstage, and never lets go for the full ninety-minute show.

Equally remarkable is Plummer's prowess as a writer. He has gathered not only passages from great literature, but also tibits, both comedic and tragic, from the odds and ends of both his life and literature. He twinkles as he recites a familiar ditty or tosses off an aside about Justin Bieber or Chris Christie. As anyone who frequents the theater knows, it is an awesome challenge to keep an audience engaged in what is in effect a ninety-minute monologue. Plummer finds exactly the right pacing and shading in his writing so that the audience is fully engaged from moment to moment. Direction by Des McAnuff and a lovely set by Robert Brill add to the liveliness of the evening.

With all the humor and dramatic peaks, Plummer conveys a profound sense of not only his own life, but the universality of life and death. At the age of 84, Plummer doesn't shy away from the subject of death, and his reflections - through his own story and the great works of literature - somehow lighten the burden of the subject, and leave us all uplifted by an evening spent in the company of a truly remarkable life.