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Geoffrey Rush's Broadway debut: 'Knockout performance'

By April MacIntyre Mar 30, 2009, 1:35 GMT

Geoffrey Rush's Broadway debut: 'Knockout performance'

03/26/2009 - Geoffrey Rush - "Exit the King" Broadway Opening Night - Curtain Call - The Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street - New York City, NY, USA © Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush is lighting up Broadway with rave reviews for his performance in "Exit the King."

The Oscar-winning actor's Broadway debut for his role as a 400-year-old king facing death while his empire crumbles in the absurdist comedy "Exit The King" has elicited the highest praise from critics of the Great White Way.

Critic Elysa Gardner of USA Today writes, "Rush has a grand time surveying the depths of comedy and pathos offered by Berenger. It's a flamboyant, hilariously physical performance that becomes profoundly moving as the king struggles to come to terms with his fate, and reveals the childlike fear and uncertainty underlying his narcissism. As Berenger's coldly pragmatic first wife, Sarandon is his foil and his antagonist, chiding him in a flat, acidic voice; later, her earthy delivery becomes more soothing, suggesting a possibility for redemption. Lauren Ambrose makes a wonderfully warped ingénue as the hyper-emotional Marie, who represents Berenger's need for sensual gratification, while Andrea Martin brings her own sure-footed wackiness to the nurse/servant Juliette."

Frank Scheck of Reuters, "As he's long demonstrated in his films, Rush is a marvelously physical actor. But he outdoes himself here, delivering a vaudevillian display of dexterity and malleability that makes Groucho Marx seem stiff-limbed. In his virtuosic hands, the act of dying never has been quite so entertaining."

Reuters also rounded up commentary from several sources. The New York Post described Mr. Rush's performance by saying that "a major injustice has finally been rectified" with the thespian's first turn on New York;s famed theater row.

"Were he a Brit instead of an Aussie, New York theatergoers would rave over Rush instead of Simon Russell Beale or Ian McKellen," wrote New York Post critic Elisabeth Vincentelli. "And we'd probably have seen him in something like 'Macbeth' or 'Uncle Vanya' by now."

The New York Times said Rush gives a "knockout performance" bringing the character to life "like a fire-trailing comet."

The Daily News described Rush as an "ace on stage" who gives a "sensational and highly physical performance."

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon's notices were not as effusive.

Sarandon, 62, is returning to Broadway for the first time in nearly 40 years.

She plays one of the king's two wives helping him face death.

Reuters also did a round up of critics' comments. The Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz said compared to her film work, "she emerges far less colorful on stage, from her voice to her body language."

The New York Post's Vincentelli said Sarandon is "problematic" as she "barks out her lines as if unsure where she's meant to be authoritative or just in a bad mood."

The play, which ran in Australia in 2007, was adapted by Rush and play director Neil Armfield from Eugene Ionesco's 1962 play.

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