Ask any actor in New York, and Wynn Handman is the guy to study under. After working as Sanford Meisner’s assistant for several years, he co-founded The American Place Theater where he could freely explore his love of drama through experimental plays that purposely did not fit the mold of standard Broadway theater. Throughout his career, he trained some of the best actors ever to grace the screen and stage while producing and directing some of the theater’s most groundbreaking modern works, all with no concern for critics. Actor/director, and Handman’s assistant, Billy Lyons beautifully tells his mentor’s story in the absolutely gripping documentary It Takes a Lunatic.
“…providing a platform for new and exciting playwrights to collaborate with young, vibrant actors to create a modern theater…”
Handman grew up in Inwood, Manhattan’s northern-most neighborhood when the area was still quite rural. Eventually, World War II broke out and he found himself in the Coast Guard on a ship that actually captured German soldiers. After the war, he found his way to the burgeoning Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater where he learned all he could from Meisner and developed his own teaching method. Eventually, Handman set out on his own, providing a platform for new and exciting playwrights to collaborate with young, vibrant actors to create a modern theater entirely outside of the mainstream. Through his theater’s existence, he brought diverse voices together, broke boundaries of race and gender and challenged audiences with their ideas.
Basically, Lyons has constructed the perfect documentary. You hang on to every word, eager for each minute story progression and, before you know it, it’s over, despite having a two-hour running time. It certainly helps that his nearly 100-year-old subject has more personality than a million millennials on Instagram and a level of genuine humanity that’s been lost in our social media-infused society.
“It says something when your students universally applaud your kind, nurturing approach…”
Perhaps the proof of Handman’s influence comes from his own mouth. He loves what he does so much; he makes us as excited as he is about what he’s talking about, which undoubtedly is why he’s so highly regarded and respected. It says something when your students universally applaud your kind, nurturing approach in an environment largely marked by fear and intimidation. His deep passion for the theater is infectious, and it makes you want to go out and experience it just to feel that same excitement in your own life.
Wynn Handman’s legacy will last as long as his students continue to grace the screens we watch. Every expression, inflection, and movement has been touched by this madman who simply strives to make our lives a little better through the performing arts. We should be eternally grateful to Billy Lyons for gracing us with this tiny shred of an elder’s true wisdom.
It Takes a Lunatic (2019) Directed by Billy Lyons. Starring Wynn Handman, Michael Douglas, Sam Shepard, Frank Langella, Woodie King Jr, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, Chris Cooper, James Caan, Susan Lucci, Eric Bogosian, Aasif Mandvi, and John Leguizamo. It Takes a Lunatic screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
10 out of 10 stars