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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Actors’ Summit stages ‘strong’ production

1/26/2012 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Neil Thackaberry is Teddy Roosevelt in “Bully, An Adventure with Teddy Roosevelt.”
Photo courtesy of Actors’ Summit Theater
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Actors’ Summit Theater has brought Teddy Roosevelt to life with its production of “Bully, An Adventure with Teddy Roosevelt.”

Roosevelt (1858–1919) was the 26th president of the United States and the first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1906). Despite the fact he was physically weak as a child, Roosevelt developed a robust lifestyle and lived to be 60.

A Republican, Roosevelt seemed to swing to all areas of the political spectrum — conservative and liberal. He invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, making him the first African-American to eat a meal in the White House.

Playwright Jerome Alden wrote “Bully” for James Whitmore. The production, featuring Whitmore, ran in the 46th Street Theater in New York City in 1997. Alden may be best known for being the executive story editor and writer for the “Bicentennial Minutes,” a series of instant history lessons that ran on CBS in 1976.

“Bully” has one large problem — it’s a one-person show. Audiences find it difficult to sit for 90 minutes (the length of “Bully”) with the monotony of only one actor performing. However, Neil Thackaberry provided excellent vocal and emotional variety in the production.

Director Peter Voinovich helped his actor overcome the problems associated with a one-man show. Voinovich brought Thackaberry into vocal variety and emotional diversity. Voinovich showed great personal strength in directing his father-in-law, who is a well-known actor, through a one-man show. Neither man can blame a problem on other members of the cast.

Thackaberry was strong in this production, moving from a man who shouts “Bully” when he’s excited to breaking down in tears at the death of his son. The story starts in the White House when Roosevelt becomes president at the death of President William McKinley.

However, the action skips backward and forward to provide important information about other parts of Roosevelt’s life. Thackaberry, aided by a few hats and coats, moves Roosevelt through the major events in the president’s life. From what is indicated in this script, Roosevelt enjoyed being president. However, toward the end of his life, when, finally, Woodrow Wilson was elected president, Roosevelt was, in many ways, a defeated man. And Roosevelt was crushed by the death of his son in the war.

Rory Wohl (set design) brought to the stage one of the most visually exciting sets Actors’ Summit has offered. Wohl’s set has several levels, with steps and platforms. The set included a life-size painting of Roosevelt, the heads of two animals and painting of flowers. These items represent the interest of Roosevelt’s life. Wohl included large carpets, which looked expensive and kept down the sound of the actor walking around on the platforms.

This exceptional set, combined with Kevin Rutan’s excellent lighting, provided an appropriate backdrop by the telling of Roosevelt’s story.

Thackaberry and the company at Actors’ Summit have offered an interesting production that moves the audience intellectually and emotionally. This fine production plays through Feb. 5 at Greystone Hall, 103 S. High St. For ticket information, call 330-374-7568.

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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