Playwright/actor Ed Dixon first met George Rose when, as a callow youth, he was cast in a touring company of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince. “I was young, pretty and could hit the high notes.” The British performer, 30 years his senior, was a respected character actor and unabashed homosexual – rare in the day. Dixon’s first impression? Underwhelming. Then Rose took the stage as Lutz, a typically vaudevillian turn. “He was outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious…with an uncanny ability to break through the fourth wall…” Captivated but “wary he might put his hand on my knee,” the nascent performer visited Rose in his dressing room. No such attempt occurred.
This is Dixon’s intimate story of the powerful relationship that supported early endeavors and made his life more colorful while teaching him about both theater and life. It’s an illuminating, warts-and-all portrait of the talented artist that became Dixon’s idol, then fell from a great height with dire consequences to both men – as told, it should be noted, with love.
The playwright is a terrific storyteller. We learn about Rose’s habit of calling all his dressers Lisette, attiring them in French maid’s aprons; of having mountain lions “in the second bedroom of an ordinary apartment on an ordinary street in Greenwich Village” and, later, after their harrowing demise, an ocelot. There are priceless quotes and song snippets enacted as if Rose whose comments knew no social boundaries and who used blue language like a truck driver queen. And oh, the alligator joke!
A roster of iconic British actors come briefly to life. Ralph Richardson leaned over Rose at the makeup table and advised, “When you’re all finished, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, is it human?” We hear Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov…
If Dixon looks at something not there, we see it. When words deny, while his body language does otherwise, we get it. Joy and surprise are infectious. Flamboyance is never quite over the top. Moving around the stage with grace, energy and precise gesture, now a character actor, he’s a pleasure to watch. “One by one I played all of George’s repertoire.”
The saga’s last chapter is empathetic horror. It’s as if something sat on our collective chests. Breathing slows as scenario becomes unspeakable. Dixon’s honesty not only about what he observed and felt but its personal aftermath is striking. We’ve been on his journey. The play ends with moving perspective.
Director Eric Shaeffer helms complete focus, visual variety, a sense of confiding, channeling rather than imitation, and excellent pace.
Dixon is simply wonderful. As is this play which is both entertaining and heart-rending.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Georgie – My Adventues with George Rose
Written by and Starring Ed Dixon
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
The Loft at The Davenport Theatre
354 West 45th Street