When Christopher Plummer appeared at the Ahmanson Theatre in “A Term or Two,” his costar was a mountain of guides. He was delighted to be in these superb organization.

The 2014 solo demonstrate experienced the emotion of a four-star common touring old battlegrounds in advance of retiring to civilian lifestyle. But Plummer wasn’t going anyplace.

He experienced received an Oscar only two yrs before, his 1st, at age 82, for his slyly touching functionality as a dad who arrives out of the closet as a senior citizen in Mike Mills’ movie “Beginners.” Still to occur was one more nomination for his portrayal of J. Paul Getty in “All the Income in the Globe.” Actors may perhaps pull again from the grind of the stage but they hardly ever halt operating, if there’s a position they can make their have.

Plummer, who died previous week at 91, wasn’t bidding his fans farewell when he designed his return to the Ahmanson, where he experienced reprised his Tony-winning flip in “Barrymore” in 1998. He was stating thank you to the writers who had formed and guided his expertise.

“A Phrase or Two” was a paean to great literature and the energy of the composed term. Plummer, a Canadian exemplar of the classical stage, was a Shakespearean by way of and by. If he could be snarky about the fame that followed him from actively playing Captain Von Trapp in “The Seem of New music,” it was chiefly because people mountains he had climbed in the tragic repertoire — Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, Lear — meant far more to him than his celebrated march as a result of the Austrian Alps of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical.

It was via dramatic poetry that Plummer uncovered his voice, which he created into one particular of the supplest instruments of the contemporary stage. Playwrights guided him down this path but poetry, novels and enduring creating far more frequently nourished his quest.

Like Richard Burton, he was an intrepid phase animal in public and a bookworm in non-public. He was also bibulous like Burton and fondly recalled nights out carousing with Burton and other difficult-consuming classical actors of the period of time, this sort of as Jason Robards and Peter O’Toole, until finally wellbeing, sanity and marital injunction pressured Plummer to clear up his act.

Wafting in the Shakespearean elegant one moment, sozzled in a darkish pub with theater cronies the future, Plummer been given an immersive schooling in both the majesty and the frailty of the actor’s existence. To do justice to the grand tragic roles demands a awareness of extremes, but longevity in the theater demands self-control.

Plummer didn’t enable his harmful behaviors shortchange his profession. But in “Barrymore,” he played yet another actor, John Barrymore, who waited far too very long to rein himself in. Summoning back again to the stage the bleary-eyed thespian who ruined his reward en route to starting to be one particular of the initial Hollywood superstars, Plummer paid out homage and bore witness to a determine he understood only too nicely.

Drink was Barrymore’s undoing, and in the fictional set up of William Luce’s perform, the actor is making an attempt to rescue his occupation with a stage comeback. Plummer captures both the pathetic hamminess of the old trouper who can not recall any of his lines and the glory of the artist who is from time to time in a position to consider flight on Shakespearean text in advance of crashing again down to an empty theater.

When an actor of Plummer’s stature dies, it marks not basically the decline of a singular talent but the severing of a relationship to an august custom. The status of the classical actor, at the time regarded as the pinnacle of the subject, has diminished as screens have expanded their monopoly on drama.

Good performing is judged right now through close-ups that young audiences are additional inclined to look at as clips on their pocket gadgets. The Process, in all its several manifestations, has received the cultural struggle. Actors, teaching for the digicam, are anxious a lot more about interior truth of the matter than polished method. The road to psychological realism is presumed to minimize by personalized background.

Stella Adler, just one of the wonderful acting academics of the 20th century, knew this was not just misguided but a misreading of Stanislavski, the resource of the Method’s technique. Imagination is what ought to be mined, not childhood trauma. 1 should rise to satisfy the excellent dramatic people, not convey them down to our petty stage. Expertise for an actor is priceless, but it mustn’t functionality as a restraint. There are extra issues in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our constrained biographies.

Plummer arrived at this knowledge the outdated-fashioned way, via doing work in the theater. By the time he produced his debut at the Stratford Shakespeare Pageant in 1956, he had by now amassed an in depth résumé of stage credits. He hungered for a lot more, recognizing that in cycling as a result of the Shakespearean gamut he was refining abilities, increasing his range and, most critical, amplifying his soul.

His devotion to literature in all forms was element of his dedication to his craft. At the conclude of “A Word or Two,” he preached from the gospel that had redeemed him: “We must implore, beseech, entice, cajole, persuade, induce the young children to read through all the things of benefit, of beauty, when they’re youthful or what’s a heaven for?”

The looking through actor isn’t a detail of the earlier, but the benefit of a refined literary sensibility is much less celebrated today than social media savvy. Plummer’s death compels us to reflect on the way the highest reaches of poetry and prose can endow an actor with a contact of immortality.

Hal Holbrook, who died in January, is an additional instance of a performer who hitched his wagon to a literary genius and learned that he could fly to the stars. For Holbrook, it was the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain that opened boundless vistas. Donning a white match and wielding a cigar, he figured out from the grasp he was embodying. Night soon after night time, in front of audiences of different disposition, he sharpened his timing and honed his instincts not just for his touring demonstrate but for all his subsequent get the job done on phase and display screen.

Shakespeare was Plummer’s tutor, and by the time I noticed him in Jonathan Miller’s creation of “King Lear” at Lincoln Heart, he was a learn of his craft. On stability, he was almost certainly the best Lear of my theatergoing occupation. Paul Scofield will get the nod on film and Laurence Olivier on Tv set, but in conditions of my phase Lears it will come down to two, Ian Holm and Plummer.

Plummer’s Lear might not have been as by natural means irascible as Holm’s, but he brought Lear’s seniority to dribbling life. His Lear was a “foolish fond aged male,” shot by with belated regrets. Capricious, volatile, egomaniacal and, yes, stagy, he was in the conclusion culpably human. When he howled, the heavens cracked. And when he requested Cordelia for her blessing, we wept.

Artifice and naturalism had been virtuosically fused in his effectiveness. Magnificent literature — the true secret of his trade — showed Plummer the way.