From Milwaukee to London, and back

If the names Mark Rylance and Dario Fo don't mean anything to you at this moment, that's fine.
By
  • Adri Mehra
November 04, 2005

If the names Mark Rylance and Dario Fo don't mean anything to you at this moment, that's fine.

If they still don't after you read this column, I'm going to wade through the sea of Fanta cans you call your "apartment" and hide your GameCube until you've watched four days of BBC America and late-night PBS specials.

That's how important these guys are. And no, they're not sleeper picks for the next NFL expansion draft. That's not why you've never heard of them, smartie. You haven't heard because they don't live in the United States, nor do they exist on American television.

As we know, the media in our country are interested only in those who blow up bridges. Unfortunately for their own celebrity (but luckily for us), these two men have spent their lives building bridges. Living, breathing bridges to the past. To times long since forgotten, but still with us today, swimming in our bloodstream -from our arts and literature to what we think is funny and tragic about life. To William Shakespeare and to the Italian Renaissance, to be precise.Who are these modern historical crusaders?

Mark Rylance was born in the pastoral countryside of Kent, England, in 1960. His parents, both English teachers, moved to Connecticut when he was 2 years old, and then to Milwaukee when he was in fourth grade.

After playing Hamlet early on in high school (with his own dad as First Gravedigger in the play), Rylance stole the show at a Milwaukee Shakespeare Festival as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and decided he would audition for the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Not only did Rylance get in, but he also got a scholarship. After two years of training at the academy and two years performing in Glasgow, Scotland, Rylance was selected for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's hometown), which is considered not only the premier presenter of the Bard's works, but also the home of some of world's greatest actors.

After this baptism by fire into the bedrock of classical theater, the kid from Wisconsin was ready to put on his own barbecue. He got the attention of a certain Sam Wanamaker, a fellow Midwesterner (from Chicago) and actor-director who spent nearly his entire adult life raising money and interest in rebuilding Shakespeare's original playhouse, the Globe Theatre, on the same site in London where it was knocked down by the Puritans in 1642.

Wanamaker invited Rylance to be on his board of directors for the Shakespeare's Globe project. He ended up becoming the artistic director for the Globe, which was reconstructed and opened 10 years ago with great fanfare, and has since become one of London's most popular tourist destinations. Rylance has appeared in every season since 1995 as both an actor and a director, and won the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Benedick in Shakespeare's famed comedy "Much Ado About Nothing."

"He plays Shakespeare like Shakespeare wrote it for him the night before," Hollywood heavyweight Al Pacino was heard to say after a performance at the Globe a few years back.

What's Rylance doing now? Well, he's in Minneapolis until Sunday, wowing audiences with his wonderfully earnest and witty portrayal of Duke Vincentio in one of Shakespeare's lesser known comic gems, "Measure for Measure," at the Guthrie Theater as part of its final worldstage series at its current location on Vineland Place. See it.

I didn't tell you about Dario Fo yet, did I? Ha, ha. That's the perk of being afflicted with the recurring illness known as the column. Catch you later, thou captive audience.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at amehra@mndaily.com

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