“I take it as a pat on the back and an encouragement to continue,” almost blushed F. Murray Abraham, accepting the Shakespeare Theatre Award for Classical Theatre at the Harman Center for the Arts annual Gala Monday night. And then, “I’m not finished yet. This is not a retirement award.”
A number of diverse performances — opera, modern dance, musical theatre, and even rap — based on Shakespeare’s great characters, accompanied by some roasting and remembering of Abraham’s early days, served as a tribute to stage and screen, attended and acted by Tony Nominated and Award Winning greats Lauren Flanigan, Bill Irwin, Howard McGillin, Jerry Stiller, Christine Ebersole (a surprise!), STC Artistic Director Michael Khan, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and the Q Brothers.
Moved to reprise his own favorite part, Abrahams fell into a monologue of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, a part perhaps only shadowed in fame and audience popularity by that of his role as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus.
His own brief tribute to the Bard stole the show.
“My work means a lot to me. It’s very important to me,” shared Abraham. “Literature was not a part of my life. My people were steelworkers and coalminers and mechanics… and then I discovered acting through [this High School teacher] who saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there.”
“And it’s true when I stepped on the stage, I knew exactly where I belonged. I saw the truth in the theatre. I don’t know where you can go for the truth except in art.”