BROOKLYN: British director Sam Mendes and the extraordinary actor Simon Russell Beale first hooked up at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Mendes directed Beale as Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, as the eponymous king in Richard III and as a tenor-voiced Ariel in The Tempest. The two men have been well nigh inseparable since. Beale stood out as a spellbindingly disturbing lago in Mendes's 1998 Othello, which also marked his U.S. stage debut when the Royal National Theatre production played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Mendes's swan song after 10 years at the helm of the renowned Donmar Warehouse was a Beale double bill. The actor portrayed the heartrending title role in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
It comes as no surprise then that when Mendes and his U.K. production company, Neal Street Productions, joined forces with BAM and London's Old Vic to create a one-of-a-kind series called the Bridge Project, the director quickly signed on Beale. The seeds were sown in 2003, when BAM presented Vanya/Twelfth Night to sold-out audiences.
This time, Beale takes on Leontes in The Winter's Tale and Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard, another Chekhov/Shakespeare venture. "I've done every Shakespeare play Sam has directed, except for his first one," Beale says, speaking after a break in rehearsals in Brooklyn. "When we were younger, we did Troilus and Richard III, both hard-nosed plays. …