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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Actors’ Summit stages ‘Will Rogers’ show

10/11/2012 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Neil Thackaberry’s talent featured in production

Neil Thackaberry (Will Rogers) stars in Actors’ Summit Theater’s production of “Will Rogers’ U.S.A.”
Photo courtesy of Actors’ Summit Theater
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Will Rogers helped the United States survive the Great Depression and the ups and downs of being a developing nation.

Audiences enjoyed his folksy humor and his ability to poke fun at the greats of his time. Rogers worked in the Ziegfeld Follies, made 71 movies, worked on Broadway, wrote 4,000 columns and had a weekly radio show. He was one of the most visible men in this country. Yet, he was never mean-spirited in his performance or his writing.

Now, he’s back on the stage at Actors’ Summit Theater. Neil Thackaberry plays Rogers in Actors’ Summit’s production of “Will Rogers’ U.S.A.” For 90 minutes Thackaberry roams the stage speaking lines performed by Rogers during his career. Some of the lines evoke big laughs; others, thoughtful introspection.

In truth, Thackaberry looks nothing like Rogers. Yet, with outstanding makeup design by MaryJo Alexander and a well-trimmed hairpiece, Thackaberry strongly resembled him.

Director George Roth performed in Actors’ Summit’s productions of “Nixon’s Nixon” and “Nobody Don’t Like Yogi.” Roth and Thackaberry created a down-home Rogers. The staging, for the most part, had Rogers ambling around the stage, sitting at his desk and always talking to his audience. This Rogers gave the audience a knowing smile — as if everyone in the room was in on all of his jokes.

The script is based on materials gathered for James Whitmore’s one-man Rogers show, “Will Rogers’ U.S.A.,” and expanded with quotations from Rogers’ writing.

A one-person show is tough on the performer and on the audience. The actor is on stage and working all of the time — in this production, that’s 90 minutes without an intermission or break. For the audience, the one-man show provides little variety. In this production, the lack of variety was evident. The script follows, for the most part, Rogers’ vaudeville act, with parts added from his radio show and his weekly column. The script includes Rogers’ stories. But, the script doesn’t include emotional ups and downs.

Thackaberry proves once again what a talented actor he is. However, he needs to share the stage with others in order to perform at his best.

“Will Rogers’ U.S.A.” will continue through Oct. 28 in the 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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