"Out, out, brief candle!" The ephemeral nature of the theatrical experience is part of its charm. Live theater, like life itself, is fleeting and not replicated. The magic that exists between audience and actor, no matter how potent, can never be recaptured.
Maybe that's why we culture vultures have a soft spot for movies about the stage. You can relive the experience and give them as gifts with these classic theater movies for the drama buff in your life.
"Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection" • Peek backstage at the New Burbage Festival (which looks suspiciously like Canada's Stratford Festival) for the most outrageously addictive 2008 TV show ever made about the theater. Each season takes us behind the scenes for a different play, such as "Hamlet" or "Romeo and Juliet," as Shakespearean director Geoffrey Tennant (the yummy Paul Gross) takes charge of the festival after the death of his mentor, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette). The six-disc set features all 18 episodes, plus commentaries and behind-the-scenes footage. ($29 for DVD, $60 for the Blu-ray, http://www.acornonline.com)
"Shakespeare in Love" • The inimitable Tom Stoppard co-wrote the sparkling screenplay for this Oscar-winning play-within-a-play about the life and times of the young Bard (a gorgeous Joseph Fiennes). This brainy but also tender film captures the pulse-pounding of Shakespeare's poetry in a giddy tale of cross-dressing, romance and backstage skulduggery. Shining turns by Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush and Judi Dench lend this 1998 gem its irresistible radiance. ($9.98 Blu-ray, http://www.amazon.com)
"The Dresser" • A classical actor once hailed for his tour-de-force performances is now forced to tour with heartbreaking results in this memorable 1983 valentine to the stage. Albert Finney stars as Sir, a cantankerous English thespian sliding into senility while leading a motley troupe of Shakespearean actors during the London Blitz in World War II. Tom Courtenay plays the dresser, the one who holds Sir together through the chaos of air-raid sirens, ego clashes and unrequited love stories. ($34.04 for DVD, http://www.amazon.com)
"My Dinner with Andre" • The late great Louis Malle cordially invites you to a meeting of the minds between theater titans Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn in this 1981 cult classic. Gregory, an avant-garde director, and actor/playwright Shawn (famed for everything from "The Designated Mourner" to the Grand Negus) go head to head at a posh Manhattan restaurant for 110 unforgettable minutes of banter and wit. ($23.99 for DVD, http://www.amazon.com)
"All About Eve" • Imitation is the sincerest form of career assassination in this 1950 stage-door classic directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. From the moment the ostensibly innocent young ingenue Eve (Anne Baxter) first beholds her idol, the great stage diva Margo (Bette Davis), she begins plotting her Broadway coup d'etat. The duplicitous Broadway wannabe insinuates her way into the lives of Margo's lover, her director and her playwright all the while sweetly batting her eyes. Only the ink-stained wretch of the bunch, the cynical theater critic (is there any other kind?) played to perfection by George Sanders, sees through Eve's charade. ($14.98 for DVD at http://www.amazon.com)