The Oscar-winning actor hasn’t been seen on the New York stage since he starred in a 2005 revival of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and he returns in a new production of August Wilson’s play, which opened on Monday night (26Apr10).
Washington previously admitted he had reservations about taking on the lead role of Troy, which was made famous by legendary actor James Earl Jones in a 1987 production.
But New York Times critic Ben Brantley has praised the actor for making his portrayal different to Jones’. He writes, “Mr. Washington… has his own personal spectre to wrestle with in this production. Mr. Washington is stepping into the outsize shadow of James Earl Jones. His Troy, not unexpectedly, is smaller than Mr. Jones’ was, but that also means it is on a more human scale and in some ways more intricately drawn. Mr. Washington has to work hard to build his Troy, brick by brick instead of with one overwhelming first impression.”
But Brendan Lemon, writing in London’s Financial Times, wasn’t as impressed with Washington’s performance.
He adds, “You are aware of Washington’s commanding gifts as an actor; (but) at other times, his directness seems hollow. In sensitive moments, Washington reminds me of what Hollywood siren Raquel Welch once observed of her football-legend-turned-movie-actor co-star, Jim Brown: ‘He has trouble melting.'”
And Joe Dziemianowicz, of the New York Daily News, writes, “Denzel Washington’s acting suffers due to too much soapiness. (He) barrels onstage in Fences and guns it, roaring instantly from zero to 60 in both intensity and volume. He leaves it revving there. All night. After a while, it becomes more exhausting than exhilarating.”