The Stage Will Never Be the Same: Saying Goodbye to Hoffman

PhilipSeymourHoffmanSept2010

I was sad when I heard the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing. As I left the movie theater that sunny Sunday afternoon, checking my phone to see what I had missed while I was being entertained for those few hours, I sympathized with his family and friends as I read the details of his passing at such a young age. He wasn’t a favorite of mine, but I definitely recognized how great he was at his craft. I can still remember his haunting and frightening realistic portrayal in Capote. In retrospect, this seems pretty odd as he played a writer. His portrayal should not have been as haunting as it was at the time. Still, his voice and the darkness of the storyline stayed with me, and not in a good way. There were times when I would see him on TV and for a few seconds I would forget that he was not actually Capote. I had to remind myself that it was just a character he had played. That is how great of an actor he was. Still, I felt a sadness over his death as only a stranger could – reserved, distant, and detached. I had yet to realize what I, an average fan, had really lost.

The day after his death, the Internet and TV news channels were flooded with stories about the incident. I tried my best to dodge the stories. At a certain point they seemed to just continue replaying the same sad details that unfolded prior to and leading up to his death. I did not need nor did I want to know more. Perusing the front page, online edition of my local newspaper the situation was the same. Headline after headline mentioned Hoffman, promising readers the opportunity to learn just one more tidbit of information. I didn’t take the bait…

But then I saw this: “Philip Seymour Hoffman: Acting cost him.”

The title of the article grabbed my attention. Interestingly, it was something that I had been expecting, a different side of the story that I had been waiting for. The side that spoke about how Hollywood had led yet another young talent down the wrong path. It wasn’t a new angle, but I was interested to read it anyway.

“I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman play Willy Loman on Broadway, and what I remember most is sheer exhaustion at the play’s end.”

The first sentence of the article caught me off guard. It was an unexpected start to a story that was so expected. As I continued, my expectations fell to the wayside with each sentence I read. The writer spoke about Hoffman’s magic on the stage as he recounted his “Broadway memories.” “Death of a Salesman,” “True West,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” – he rattled off some of the productions he had the opportunity to experience Hoffman’s brilliance in before his death. This caught my attention. I had known him as a film actor, but not a theater actor. By the time I was halfway through the article, I was angry and quite jealous.

I am such a fan of the theater. My parents and I make a special trip to New York each year to see the newest “it” shows on and off Broadway. The very first one I saw was during the summer before my freshman year of high school. My mom had a desire to see Cats. I remember the actors dressed as cats parading around the stage for a good amount of time, but not much else. I guess my palate hadn’t yet grown accustomed to the theater world. It wasn’t until years later, after Oprah had deemed “In the Heights” the show to see, did I revisit the theater, after which I fell head over heels. It was amazing. The singing. The dancing. The acting. I could see myself becoming a regular on the theater scene as a New Yorker.  I loved it so much that I made it a point to see a show in London during my time there a few years ago.

Billy Elliot Theater Poster
What better play to see than Billy Elliot while in London! 

I continued reading about the writer’s appreciation of Hoffman’s work on the stage. I was disappointed that I had not had the opportunity to see him in this element, and as I was nearing the end of the article, one sentence brought it home that I never would:

“But as good as he was on film, he was extraordinary in the theater.”

There it was. When I read this, it really hit me. I would never have the opportunity to experience Philip Seymour Hoffman on stage. I would never feel what the writer felt each time he saw Hoffman take on another character right in front of his eyes, at arm’s length. “…he made you feel like you had lived ‘Death of a Salesman’ with him” – I would never get to live a character with him. As the realization came that I had missed what many have called one of the greatest actors of our generation, the distance that had previously been between his death and its effect on me decreased. Although I could in no way empathize with the sadness that his family and friends felt, I could most certainly join in with the appreciators of his work who like me were sad by the loss of such a gem and talent. It’s a sadness that only a voyeur could feel.

May he rest in peace.

 

A sunny afternoon in New York with Porgy and Bess... need I say more?
A sunny afternoon in New York with Porgy and Bess… need I say more?

Featured Image Attribution: Justin Hoch [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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