Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 23, 2001

Terence Knapp, who as a teen played Lady Macbeth,
admits to an enduring love of Shakespeare, born
437 years ago today.

Isle actor finds
true love’s labor
isn’t lost

UH's Terence Knapp
takes the stage in a
tribute to Shakespeare

By Scott Vogel

It's a marriage that has lasted 50 years, a partnership that -- while unique -- should be the envy of newlyweds everywhere. And like most great loves, it began with a chance meeting, one that Terence Knapp, 69, remembers vividly.

"I played Lady Macbeth when I was 13," he recalled, "and for well over a half-century, I've been with him day and night." Even if your own idea of a perfect partner is someone a bit less, well, clinging, you have to admire the couple's record, especially as divorce rates soar.

Knapp's secret? It's really very simple. You just have to fall in love with Time magazine's "Man of the Millennium."

"I am thoroughly soaked in Shakespeare. I happen to love him deeply. His work is comparable to great music because his mode of expression can be so infinitely varied, lyrical, harsh and aggressive -- you name it. He is the greatest observer of human nature that the world has ever known."

For Shakespeare fans, it is an opportunity devoutly
to be wished: Terence Knapp performing the
great soliloquies.

In some ways Knapp's hyperbole is attributable to his close proximity to the Bard; then again, Shakespeare is one of few authors about whom you can never say enough. Even as Knapp prepared, for the 31st time, to celebrate the Bard's birthday (Bill turns 437 today), you get the sense that no gift he could ever bestow would ever compare to what Knapp has gotten in return. Still, the UH professor goes on trying, year after year. And you can witness his latest gift tonight, when Knapp performs some of Shakespeare's greatest monologues at the Windward Community College Little Theater in Kaneohe.

"'Time and Time Again' is the title, which signifies two things," he said. "Shakespeare himself takes on new life with each generation because he comes afresh to new people. And also, a great deal of Shakespeare's writing has to do with the element of time. So much of it has to do with the element of recall. Even as famous a phrase as 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day' has an element of time in it, the recollection of a beautiful summer's day."

Accordingly, we get Shylock's recollection of the time Antonio publicly insulted him (in "The Merchant of Venice"), a time that Antonio has obviously forgotten in his haste to borrow money from the wealthy Jew. Knapp also plans to perform monologues of time and memory from "Hamlet," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Henry V" and some of the sonnets. In addition, he will be singing some of the Bard's words, including a few favorite passages that were set to music by Schubert.

Even though he claims to be "contemplating retirement," Knapp's pace is hardly slowing up. He is still teaching voice and acting at UH, continues to read poetry for public radio, and his autobiography, "Hawaii's Adopted World Class Actor" -- the title referring to a moniker bestowed on him by the Hawaii Legislature -- was just published late last year.

One of the book's chief virtues is its anecdotal account of Knapp's professional and personal relationships with some of the greatest actors of the last century, among them Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench.

But all the details of Knapp's life story are here as well, from his early days as a struggling young actor to his work at England's famed Chichester Festival and Royal National Theater, to his directing of Shakespeare in Japan, to his Peabody Award-winning portrayal of Father Damien. It is a story that needed to be told, obviously, even if the telling produced an emotion that Knapp rarely experiences: stage fright.

"I'm shy about it in some ways," he said. "I think when you write about your own life experience, it does make one rather vulnerable, but then that's the whole premise of being a performer." And in the blink of an eye, he is back on safe, Bard-based ground: "And there's no way to be more vulnerable than through the work of Shakespeare, because he triggers such wonderful opportunities for it."

Knapp's writing experience is a reminder that among the many qualities a great actor must possess in earnest is a virtue not often mentioned in this world of muslin and make-believe: courage. And yet courage -- whether it be the courage to get onstage or the courage to expose oneself emotionally -- is at the heart of all great dramatic performances. Knapp knows this, and like a wizened Obi Wan Kenobi, he sees his mission as one of educating the next generation in the ways of the "force."

"I like my life with the students enormously," he said. "I like working with talent, drawing it out when I see it, getting people to take imaginative risks. (Acting's) not surfing on one of the great tunnels of the North Shore, but nevertheless it is a reason to be as brave and bold."

Furthermore, as Knapp and King Lear are fully aware, the younger rise when the old doth fall, and the professor's greatest legacy -- greater than his books or performances -- may well be the army of actors who have been lucky enough to call him a mentor over the years. Very few of them, one imagines, emerged from Knapp's classes without falling in love with Shakespeare, a love that they will likely be passed on for generations to come. It is this sort of everlasting affection that makes Shakespeare an immortal, and ... oh heck, let's give the Bard the last word:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, to th

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

"Time and Time Again"

When: 7 p.m., today
Where: Windward Community College Little Theater, Kaneohe
Cost: Free
Call: 235-7470

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