For actor Patrick Page, the pandemic and lockdown of 2020 was productive. While his Tony-nominated run as Hades in the Broadway hit musical “Hadestown” was abruptly halted, he found many ways to keep busy.
“I always have to be working on something,” Page said by phone from New York City this spring.
He launched “The Patrick Page Podcast” with his longtime collaborator Michael Littig, in which he talks about acting. He took his work with the Patrick Page Acting Studio online and developed a curriculum centered on Shakespeare. He directed his wife, Paige Davis, and her former “Trading Spaces” co-star Doug Wilson in a production of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.” And he started filming “The Gilded Age,” a new series from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes for HBO.
He also filmed a one-man show, “All the Devil’s Are Here,” an exploration of Shakespeare’s villains, for the Shakespeare Theatre Co. in Washington, D.C. It’s available for streaming until July 28.
This weekend, though, audiences will get a peek at Page, albeit a short one, as the Spokane-born actor has a cameo role in “In the Heights.” The film, based on the Tony-winning musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda, and directed by John Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), was delayed a year by the pandemic and is in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday.
His small role, as a character named Pike Phillips, came about because of mutual fandom. “Lin, I’ve known him and been a fan of his, and – this is so astonishing to me – he’s been a fan of mine, he had this little part, and so I’m doing it,” Page said. “It was great fun to be on the set for a few days.
“I think he’s our Shakespeare. He and (Stephen) Sondheim are the minds that I don’t understand, like you could live inside that kind of consciousness for your whole life and explore it, like I’m doing with Shakespeare. Any time I get to spend a little time around him, I’m grateful.”
Those wishing to spend more time with Page, and join in his exploration of William Shakespeare, can turn on their computers and purchase tickets to stream “All the Devils Are Here.” In the 80-minute one-man show, Page explores the notions of evil in Shakespeare through his most famous villains, including Iago, Richard III, Macbeth, Shylock, Malvolio and Claudius.
He discusses the characters as they appear chronologically in Shakespeare’s work, so viewers can see how the notion of evil and malevolence evolved during the playwright’s career.
If that sounds like an experience more suited to the classroom than the living room, think again. The show moves quickly, and within it Page displays some of his formidable acting skills as he briefly inhabits these infamous characters. “All the Devils” is both educational and entertaining.
Page’s relationship with Shakespeare dates back to his youth. His father, Robert Page, taught drama at Holy Names College and Eastern Washington State College but spent summer breaks working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Young Patrick tagged along and was learning the words of Shakespeare at an age when most kids are learning their ABC’s. As a professional actor, he’s played Aumerle in “Richard II” for the Public Theatre in New York, Iago and Macbeth for the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C., Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar” for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” for the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
“If I have a mission in all of this, it’s to help people understand. Shakespeare is so foundational for our culture, and yet people can be intimidated or afraid or put off, either by a class they had or by a play they’ve seen that they didn’t understand, by a production that put them off in one way or another. So, I’m trying to help people into the plays and explain here’s why this playwright is so great, and here’s how he connects to you, and here’s how he can connect to your life.”
The idea for the show had been in his head for a while and came to life when the Utah Shakespeare Festival asked him to judge and teach at their annual high school competition. Rather than simply lecture on some aspect of Shakespeare, Page pitched his idea for a one-man show. They agreed.
“So, I went and did it on their outdoor stage at 10 in the morning in October, and it was wonderful because there was no physical support. No lighting, no sound. Just a group of 700 or 800 high school students,” he said. “It is very useful to do any kind of play for high school students because they are notoriously poor at disguising their boredom.”
Then he performed it for adults on the festival’s indoor stage and took it to Prague, where he performed it before Shakespeare scholars and theater directors at an international Shakespeare conference. He did a one-night production of it Off Broadway in New York to see how it would fly.
“It flew very well,” he said.
He was developing it for an Off Broadway run when the pandemic hit. When Page offered “All the Devils Are Here” as an option for a socially distant production, the Shakespeare Theatre Co.’s artistic director, Simon Godwin, jumped at the chance and suggested that they film it. The effort has paid of with high praise.
Writing in the New York Times, Maya Phillips says, “Page, with his bottomless bass (soon to be set to audio in a Shakespeare@Home production of ‘Julius Caesar’), seems possessed by such a mastery of his craft, moving teary-eyed through the pain of Shylock and the comic pomposity of Malvolio with such swiftness that it’s like watching a chameleon change hues before your eyes: stupefying, effortless.”
And Peter Marks, the Washington Post theater critic, writes, “ ‘All the Devils Are Here’ is the best one-person show I’ve come across during the pandemic.” Page expects for the show to have a life beyond the pandemic.
He’s still planning that full production in New York and a run in Washington, D.C.
“I believe this is a lifelong project,” Page said. “I believe I will always be working on the idea, probably feeling that I made some kind of mistake and trying to rectify that as I learn more.”
He’s also hopeful the popularity of filmed theatrical productions during the pandemic will expand beyond the pandemic. He points to not only the filmed production of “Hamilton” that hit Disney+ last year, but also the U.K. National Theatre’s long tradition of releasing filmed versions of its shows as evidence there’s an audience for it.
“What we’ve seen is that it doesn’t diminish attendance at the theater; in fact, it increases it,” he said.
He recalls when his wife was starring in “Chicago” just as Rob Marshall’s 2002 Oscar-winning film was released.
“I remember when the film came out thinking, ‘Oh, is this the end of the Broadway production of ‘Chicago’? It did exactly the opposite,” Page said. “It gave it a whole second life. People had seen the film and then wanted to see the show. It’s the same with ‘Hamilton.’ People will clamor to see it. You don’t diminish your audience by making a film of it.”
“The Gilded Age,” which stars Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon, got back to filming in September. It has been shot in a style he loves.
“We did the first read-through, actually, the day before everything shut down last year,” he said. “Then it was put on hold for a while.”
When productions resumed with new COVID-19 safety protocols, “The Gilded Age” was among the first to resume work.
“We’re shooting in a way that I love, which is we shoot the whole season all at once rather than one episode at a time. … For an actor, it’s wonderful because your time is much more efficiently used.
“It’s a great show. If you liked ‘Downton Abbey,’ you’ll love this.”
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