Legendary actor, marvelous SPTC production mesh with ‘Barrymore’

October 30, 2002
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesJohn Barrymore: the name, for those lucky enough to have heard of or seen the famed actor who died 50 years ago, is one not easily dismissed on any level. But even those unfamiliar with the black sheep of the Barrymore family will be fascinated and delighted with the Santa Paula Theater Center production of “Barrymore.”The scion of two legendary acting families - Drew and Barrymore - the play, starring a dazzling Ron Rezac as the actor, affectionately dubbed “The Monster” by old friends, shows Barrymore’s last attempt to recapture the genius of his portrayal of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” for an upcoming 1942 screen test.The role was the one that in 1920 created a furor over Barrymore, to this day still considered one of the handsomest men to ever grace stage or screen, whose original Broadway performance of the hunchbacked, evil prince is unequaled. Barrymore was already famous and had all the earmarks of becoming a great stage comedian, which made the transformation to genius in “Richard III” all the more stunning.But the Barrymore in William Luce’s play is not about the gloriously handsome youth who held the world in his palm of his hand, but rather of the ailing, aging man who soon replaced the world with a bottle, divorces, neglected children and blackouts.Alas, John traded true fame for tabloid notoriety while his siblings, Lionel and Ethel, carried on the acclaimed tradition of acting’s Royal Family.But John never gave up, at least easily. And in “Barrymore” he takes to a jumbled stage that only emphasizes his innate elegance while his frustrated prompter - a mostly unseen man named Frank, a very appropriate name, by the way - tries to bring some continuity to the chaos that was Barrymore. SPTC newcomer Andrew Brasted does an excellent turn as the prompter, a man alternately frustrated and delighted by his duties.From Rezac’s first appearance, framed dramatically in the doorway, prominent bags under his eyes and the ever-present doctor’s bag holding booze under his arm, to the last moment of the play, the audience is in the presence of genius both that of Barrymore and this fine SPTC production.“A man isn’t old until regrets take the place of dreams,” is a key line uttered by “The Great Profile,” whose few regrets are punctuated by bawdy limericks, musings of his father, the “bum” who booze and insanity killed off at the height of his own glorious stage career, and other fascinating memories that shaped the man and the actor.
It is the stories galore - covering everything from Trixie the whore to gossip columnist Louella Parsons to George Bernard Shaw and beyond - that make up “Barrymore” and help explain the legend.By turns arrogant and insecure, jovial and joyless, the little boy raised by his beloved grandmother - Mum-mum - after his mother’s death, seduced by his stepmother, heartless lover and broken-hearted, Barrymore bares all, including flashes of madness and flashbacks to merrier times.“One of my greatest regrets is that I couldn’t sit in the audience and watch myself perform,” is a Barrymore lament, one that in this role should be shared by the wonderful Rezac who so ably whips together The Great Profile and The Monster in one delightful package.David Ralphe’s direction of “Barrymore,” produced by Leslie Nichols and stage managed by Karl Krause, is superb. Gary Richardson’s scenic and lighting design is excellent; Randon Pool’s costumes are top notch and lighting technicians John McKinley, Kate English, Suzi Skutley and Andrea Robles do a fine job.Not for children or the faint of heart, “Barrymore” runs through Oct. 20th.Call 525-4645 for ticket information and reservations.

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