Geoffrey Rush Debuts on Broadway in Ionesco’s Exit The King

At age 57, Geoffrey Rush has just debuted on Broadway to almost universal rave reviews. If the press and online reader comments are anything to go by, New Yorkers are wondering why an actor of this calibre didn’t debut in their home town 20 years ago?

I’m just gonna jump right out and say it. Local readers of this blog are going to be biased in a big way about Rush’s success on Broadway. This blog originates just 15 minutes from his family home in Melbourne, Australia, so there’s no negativity here, but instead a helluva lot of patriotism about an actor we’ve grown up with and loved on and off in the Australian theatre scene for decades.

The production in question is a collaboration between Australian theatre director Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush; a fabulously witty and thoroughly engrossing translation of Eugene Ionesco’s lesser-known Absurdist work Exit The King. The play first appeared at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre and then Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre in mid-2007.

I remember two things about this performance a couple of years ago:

  • It was the only theatre show in years where word of mouth in the community was so strong about Rush’s performance, that people everywhere were ringing friends to see if anyone had a spare ticket (for American readers, it was the theatrical equivalent of trying to get a last-minute ticket to a sold-out Superbowl).
  • When I saw it with a small group of my senior high school Drama students, I told them before the show that Rush’s performance will be one of the finest lessons in acting they will ever receive … and boy oh boy, was I right!

Here’s a snippet from online reviews, posted below:

Mr. Rush’s knockout portrayal has some of the weary, contemptuous razzle-dazzle of Laurence Olivier’s great music-hall persona in “The Entertainer”. (The New York Times)

Rush is never less than virtuosic without lapsing into showboating. (New York Post)

Geoffrey Rush’s performance as the crazed, ridiculous king cannot be missed by anyone who appreciates great stage acting. (am New York)

Mr. Rush, however, gets the point right in the heart: The decayed flamboyance of his performance as the dying king is the stuff Tonys are made of. (The Wall Street Journal)

‘Exit the King’ enters Tony Awards race as frontrunner. (Los Angeles Times)

Rush is a marvelously physical actor. But he outdoes himself here, delivering a vaudevillian display of dexterity and malleability that makes Groucho Marx seem stiff-limbed. In his virtuosic hands, the act of dying never has been quite so entertaining. (Reuters)

The actor (Rush) is a total chameleon, part vaudeville comic, part circus clown, part overwrought tragedian, in his larger-than-life portrayal of a monarch who’s dying while his kingdom collapses around him. (Associated Press)

Review links:

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