Thursday, August 21, 2014

“The Worst Week in Washington”

NPR just pulled off a delightful commemoration of the August 1814 burning of Washington, D.C., by the British, in the course of the War of 1812.

 Robert Siegel expertly hosts it as straight news, in his usual droll style.  But the cap comes when that wild-&-wacky “He plays ‘The Liberal’; he plays ‘The Conservative’” brother-act (familiar from Fridays, and a sort of genteel version of the Timothy-Leary-vs.-Gordon-Liddy show from a while back) of E.J. Dionne (in the pink trunks) vs. David Brooks (in powder-blue) are brought on to comment.   And Brooks outdoes himself.
He does it by playing it straight -- amazingly straight.   Actually a risky performance, in terms of public perception, since this time it is obviously an act, yet he sounds exactly the way he always does, down to the least nuance of inflection:  which suggests what what he does at other times may likewise be partly an act.  (That was certainly the case with Leary-vs.-Liddy.)

It is quite a subtle business, when a well-known actor plays himself.  Another fine example occurs in one episode of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, where the actress who plays Willow  must play a demon who has assumed the semblance of the real Willow.   She has to get things recognizably right for that character, yet at the same time be just a tad off, in gestures and diction, in a way you might expect from an unsouled demon who, naturally, couldn’t have her soul in it.

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