Georgie: The Life and Death of George Rose, written and performed by Ed Dixon. Directed by by John Simpkins. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Ed Dixon (as himself as George Rose); photo: Jamie Roderick
"You'd have to promise not to hit me so hard!"
Actor George Rose died in 1988, tragically, at the age of 68. Born in England in 1920, appearing on the American stage beginning in 1946, his career was one of amazing depth and texture. He won four Drama Desk Awards and two Tony Awards, was nominated for an additional three Tonys and two Drama Desks and throughout his career he was hailed by his peers and by fans alike as a great actor, a thoroughly enjoyable performer.
George Rose as Major General Stanley in "The Pirates of Penzance," 1983
George Rose, himself
Rose was gay, an intellectually stimulated man who lived his life apart from others, who never created a long-lasting relationship, although his friendship with the actor Ed Dixon is being celebrated now in this new play by Dixon who brings to life the man he knew for an audience that, most likely, no longer remembers him.
At least that will be the case when this new show, now in develepmental workshop at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon Connecticut, moves into a larger venue. For the moment people who love theater and remember Rose are coming to see the play. People who go to their local theater to see and enjoy and even learn something will be seeing this play. Their reward will be two-fold: meeting and learning the fascinating history of George Rose and at the same time getting to know Ed Dixon whose own story is equally fascinating.
Rose made his first major impact as the Common Man in Robert Bolt's play "A Man For All Seasons" both in London and New York but he is best remembered for his work in the musicals "My Fair Lady", "The Pirates of Penzance" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." He made more than 30 films, including "A New Leaf" with Elaine May and Walter Matthau and seemed to never be out of the public eye including many roles on major television shows.
Dixon has been almost as active throughout his career. Also a Drama Desk nominee he has been on Broadway since 1971 and he has played major theaters all over the country. As a playwright he has been successful with musicals and straight plays and his comic thriller, "Whodunit... The Musical" seems to be in production somewhere most of the time. In this play, which he has also written, he introduces his audience to a man who is a mentor, an idol, a friend. Through his portrayal of moments in the life and death of George Rose we also get serious glimpses into the heart and soul of Ed Dixon as well.
At times, in fact, it is hard to separate the two men. There are pieces here when we forget whose story he is telling and whose career moves are being discussed. This is a weakness that the author and his director, John Simpkins, must address if the play is to succeed. However the script has great comedy, lively musical bits and the sobering tale of Rose's final vacation at his get-away vacation home in Sosúa, Dominican Republic. Dixon is an acting actor. Sometimes a more natural storyteller's take on the tale would have been appreciated and might have been more emotionally effective, but he always remains mesmerizing.
George Rose was like that. His Captain Hook in "Peter Pan" was a treasure of comic menace: overacted a tad, but never off-putting or hard to believe. The actor, dead since 1988, has a remarkable presenter for his story, one whose affection for this difficult man is clear throughout the ninety minutes of the play.
Technically the team at Tri-Arts Sharon Playhouse has done a beautiful job. Jamie Roderick's set and lighting are open and effective. The single, informal costume by Michelle Eden Humphrey allows Dixon to move easily and that's a good thing. Director John Simpkins has used his stage space nicely and kept Dixon in focus. He has worked, I am sure, on the separation of character and actor and there is still a distance to go to make everything crystal clear. What Simpkins has done very well is to work with the material to shape the individual tales being told. Rose, it seems, was a raconteur who could tell a story, long or short, and keep you focused on his eyes, his voice and his language. Simpkins has pushed these same factors in the performance of his player, Ed Dixon. We see the things he talks about even though they exist only his own memory. This takes vision, courage and talent to achieve and both of these men exhibit those traits in Dixon's performance.
In this play the actor is playing himself as a character. I've seen others do it well, most recently Jim Brochu in a play about character actor David Burns. The one man, one story about another man with supporting players sometimes as important and recognizable as the two in principal lights is becoming a staple of our theaters. At the Sharon Playhouse you can see one coming to life, one that will be cherished by any who see it. Biggest joy here: getting to know two very different actors in the physicality of one of them. Two for the price of one. That's a good deal.
Georgie: The Life and Death of George Rose continues at the Sharon Playhouse Stage II, located at 49 Amenia Road, Sharon, CT, through May 31. For information and tickets call 860-364-SHOW or go on line at www.SharonPlayhouse.org.