Monday, June 15, 2020

The celebration of a man, a mime and his artful teaching in the documentary, CREATING A CHARACTER: The Moni Yakim Legacy

If you've attended the drama division of The Julliard School (or are old enough to have seen one or another of the early productions -- American or international -- of the hit musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris), the name Moni Yakim will be familiar to you, if not indelibly imprinted on your psyche. Otherwise, just like TrustMovies, when you first hear his name, you'll draw a blank.

Once you've viewed the very interesting combination of biography, history, hagiography and appreciation that combines to make CREATING A CHARACTER: The Moni Yakim Legacy, you'll easily remember this name, along with the fellow (shown above and below) who has it.

Rauzar Alexander (shown at bottom, left), a filmmaker whose work I do not know, is credited as director here, and the end result is very much worth seeing and savoring.

Yakim's Julliard-educated students and fans have included the likes of Jessica Chastain, Anthony Mackie, Oscar Isaac, Laura Linney (shown at bottom, right), Kevin Kline, Michael Stuhlbarg and -- most recently Alex Sharp (above right), who went almost immediately from graduation to starring in (and winning a Tony for his trouble) the Broadway version of the London transfer, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. These are but a few of the now famous actors whom Moni has taught, and whom we hear from during the documentary.

While their praise is effusive and no doubt sincere, the most interesting portions of the film have to do with the Israeli-born (when it was still Palestine) Yakim and his wife and collaborator, Mina (above, left); their history via some fine archival footage, as performers and especially as mimes under the tutelage of Marcel Marceau; how they came to America with the inspired help of famous acting teacher Stella Adler (who hated mime and felt it had no place in real theater!); and Moni's most famed endeavor, directing the hit show, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, in New York City and then internationally.

How he ended up teaching at Julliard under John Houseman (with whom he famously and often disagreed) is also a fascinating tale. All of this is told crisply and quickly, and Mr. Yakim emerges from it all seeming to be one of those unusual performers who either has not an enormous ego, or who has learned how to control or hide it cleverly enough. He appears to love teaching more than anything else -- except maybe living itself, which he and his wife seem to have managed quite well.

As an ex-actor myself (with training from The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in NYC), I can vouch for the sort of exercises Mr. Yakim puts his students through, though I must say that his seem to be a lot more difficult, even excessive, that anything we had to contend with back in the early 1960s when I was a student. Still, watching Alex Sharp training and then performing in that unusual play, both he and what he went on to do would seem to be the absolute embodiment of what Mr. Yakim has trained him for.

If nothing else -- and there's a lot else here -- the documentary should prove a magnet of sorts for attracting a ton of interested drama students to The Julliard School. Distributed via First Run Features and lasting just 76 minutes, Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy opens virtually this Friday, June 19. Click here to learn how you can view this new film.  Update: We've just learned that the film will become available on DVD & VOD, the latter via (Apple TV and Amazon) on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.  

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