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Growing older in the world of theater

Posted: March 24th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater | No Comments

By David Dixon

Becoming an aging performer can be difficult for some thespians. It’s even tougher when a star’s health is put at risk because of his craft. That’s one of the major conflicts in Lamplighters Community Theatre’s production of “The Dresser.”

Towards the end of World War II, the head of a Shakespearian troupe, Sir (O.P. Hadlock) plays his roles in a grand and pompous style.

He believes that he is superior to the other players, and his closest relationships are with his worried wife, Her Ladyship (Sandy Hotchkiss), and loyal dresser Norman (Richard Rivera). Sir’s harsh, arrogant attitude and poor health threaten to negatively affect his bonds with the ones closest to him.

(l to r) O.P. Hadlock as Sir and Richard Rivera as Norman (Courtesy of Zuniga-Williams)

Since the original premiere in 1980, Ronald Harwood has adapted his script for both the big and small screen. Harwood based the story loosely on his own history with the actor-manager, Donald Wolfit.

Director Steve Murdock loved the 1983 movie version starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. While preparing for rehearsals, Murdock intentionally didn’t read about Wolfit, as Harwood’s writing is mostly meant to be fiction.

Something that attracted Murdock to the material is the unusual alliance between Sir and Norman.

“There are some parallels between this show and ‘The Odd Couple,’” he said. “Norman is the fussy one and Sir is the bombastic, sloppy one. Their friendship really feels symbiotic.”

According to Murdock, the two of them share a codependent bond. This isn’t particularly healthy for either of them, but Murdock still believes that their relationship features positive aspects. Several speeches in the play go into detail as to why Sir and Norman are so close.

Both over-the-top and nuanced acting are on display on the La Mesa stage, including intentionally cheesy acting when Sir recites prose by The Bard.

Hadlock appreciates how the plot lets audience watch both current and dated forms of storytelling.

“When people were performing in the 1940s, it was a much more exaggerated, outward and verbally intrusive form of acting,” he said. “Modern acting tends to be more subtle and internal.”

As evidenced by the recent television version and a 2016 revival in London, the narrative will always be relevant, particularly for people who enjoy fascinating backstage drama. Among the many reasons that “The Dresser” continues to age well for Hadlock is its depiction of stage actors, and Harwood’s witty dialogue.

“It’s a narrative that displays humans striving beyond their capabilities,” Hadlock said. “The vast majority of the troupers in this piece should have retired. Yet, their art is tantamount and defines their lives.”

Many will appreciate humorous sequences, but Hadlock’s favorite Harwood jokes are geared towards theater lovers. Clever lines about Shakespeare and “The Scottish Play” (“Macbeth”) are sprinkled throughout the evening.

Murdock never feels that the prose becomes pretentious or self-indulgent, despite references to other famous epics.

“It’s like when Shakespeare in performed well,” he said. “If you don’t always understand the language, that doesn’t always matter if the acting is strong.”

If there is a single reason why Murdock wants San Diegans and La Mesa residents to visit Lamplighters during the run, it would be to experience how captivating the text is when performed live.

“Everything written in the text is engaging from the minute the curtain goes up to the conclusion,” he said. “It’s smart, funny and works on six levels.”

Anyone who wants to experience an eve of excellent theater, unexpected camaraderie or is interested in understanding theater can now buy tickets for the intimate event. Sir expects each night to be a full house, so don’t let him down.

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