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Seminar
Photograph: Jeremy DanielSeminar

Alan Rickman (1946–2016) made theater magic on Broadway and Off

By David Cote
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January is becoming a dreadfully sad month for older (but not very old) actors of high caliber: news came this morning that British film and theater luminary Alan Rickman has died of cancer at age 69. This horrible news follows the passings-away of stage stalwarts Brian Bedford and David Margulies. Of course, David Bowie’s death (also at the age of 69) is still casting a long shadow over us all.

Whether you fell in love with Rickman’s icy stare and arch, purring delivery while watching Die Hard or Harry Potter, or caught him live in plays, the effect was the same: luxuriating in the presence of an actor who knew how to use his voice to give dialogue unforgettable cadence and insinuating power. My chances to see and/or review Rickman were too few: I was dazzled by his suavely brutal Elyot opposite Lindsay Duncan’s Amanda in 2002’s Private Lives. In his third (and final) Broadway outing, he was acidly hilarious in Theresa Rebeck’s lit-world satire Seminar. And he brooded marvelously at BAM in Henrik Ibsen’s lesser-known John Gabriel Borkman exactly five years ago.

But I saw him more frequently at the theater as a fellow spectator. Rickman was an avid theatergoer; Anyone who attends regularly had spotted him once or twice. I remember surprise turning to admiration when I saw him a few rows down at Adam Rapp’s The Hallway Trilogy.

The last time I saw Rickman at the theater, we met briefly before the show. It was last spring at New York Theatre Workshop’s The Events. (Interesting, NYTW was the company that infamously declined to produce the politically sensitive My Name Is Rachel Corrie, which the actor had directed.) Rickman had known my wife through acting circles for years and was there with a friend, one of her fellow audiobook narrators. He mentioned that he’d seen me on NY1’s On Stage and then we got to talking about why there wasn’t a similar program on BBC, given England’s thriving theater culture. We talked a little about BBC presenter and master interviewer Melvyn Bragg. It wasn’t a long or deep conversation, but he was genuinely engaged, and I was inwardly rather thrilled to find myself having a chat with Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman was, of course, more than a voice, but thank God we have that silken, molten, slithery, caressing, feathery, lulling and enchanting sound to remember.

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