Roger Rees
(© J. T. MacMillan)
Roger Rees
(© J. T. MacMillan)
"It's only me and the microphone. It will be one person telling stories to other people. That's been going on since people lived in caves," says Tony Award winner Roger Rees about his one-man Shakespearean show What You Will, which begins a limited run at ACT in San Francisco on July 18. Indeed, for Rees, the thrust of the Bard's work is not about Elizabethan garb or big, moving scenery, but the words themselves. "If you take away a lot of the pretension and grandness from Shakespeare, a true poeticism is revealed," he says.

His attention to Shakespeare's language can certainly be traced back to the artist's work at the Royal Shakespeare Company with directors like John Barton and Trevor Nunn. "Their new readings of what had hitherto been rather Victorian and ornately decorated productions actually paved the way to what nowadays is sometimes terribly eloquent productions where the words are the scenery," says Rees. "You get back to the language that Shakespeare was enjoying in 1590. The Elizabethan mind wanted and demanded that one word could mean 50 things. What Shakespeare offers us is not ambiguity; it's choices."

While What You Will -- which has previously been performed in Washington, D.C. and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (where Rees was previously the artistic director) -- includes passages lifted from Shakespeare's most dynamic texts, it also includes more contemporary anecdotes. Says Rees: "I'm astonished to say, but people are really pleased to hear what happened to me, the way I got a little bit more confident, the people I've met, and the things I didn't know."