Play by John Davidson ’63 Debuts at Denison
Date of Event: October 15, 2008
Posted: October 2, 2008 / Last Updated: October 4, 2008
John Davidson, the smiling, dimpled star of Denison Summer Theatre during his undergraduate years at Denison (1959 to 1963) and leading man on TV, stage and film thereafter, can now add playwright to his list of accomplishments. During Homecoming Week, Davidson and three fellow Denison graduates will participate in the premiere performance of his play, “Father/Son and Holy Ghost,” at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, in the Ace Morgan Theatre. Other performances of Davidson’s autobiographical and provocative play are set for 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Oct. 16-18) and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 19. Admission is free but reservations can be made at 740-587-6527 and are advised.
Jonathan Reynolds ’65, a playwright, will direct the production. Mary Kay Williams Booher ’64, actor with the Weathervane Playhouse for 40 years, will be the off-stage voice, and Robert C. “Bob” Armstrong ’63, real estate lawyer and actor, will play Davidson’s father.
“Father/Son and Holy Ghost” tells of Davidson’s quest for his father’s love. Davidson is one of four sons; his parents were both ordained American Baptist ministers. Traveling back in time, in the play father and son become the same age. “What seems to be a discussion of religion, culminates in revelations that will forever bind—and separate—them,” writes Davidson.
“Like so many men, I felt that I could never get close to my father,” says Davidson. “I wish I had forced him to talk with me more. Now, in writing this play, I have had a chance to say all I ever wanted to say to him and, in doing this, I have come to a new place in my life.”
Davidson spent three seasons with the Denison Summer Theatre. One year after graduation he was on Broadway playing Burt Lahr’s son in the musical “Foxy.” Davidson starred in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “The Fantasticks,” recorded 13 albums for Columbia Records, and played Curly in the Broadway revival of “Oklahoma,” for which he won The Theater Guild Award. He played the major Las Vegas showrooms and starred in numerous regional theatre productions as well as hosting The Tonight Show for 80 evenings, more than any other singer. Davidson also is the author of an educational book, “The Art of the Singing Entertainer,” and with his wife, Rhonda, has created an educational, geography card game named “Borderlines,” which is used by social studies teachers throughout the country.
“Last year, when I was performing a concert at the Midland Theater in Newark,” says Davidson, “I had the crazy idea of coming out to Denison and asking Peter Pauzé, Cynthia Turnbull and the theatre department to consider my play for homecoming.” Davidson also had another crazy idea: “The idea that three classmates who really haven’t seen each other in 45 years could come together to work on this play is wonderfully weird!
“Bob, who plays my father,” continues Davidson, “was my first choice. I had a crush on Mary Kay during those Denison years when we played opposite each other in so many shows. When I was able to get Jonathan to direct I just couldn’t believe it. I wanted someone who would challenge me, get in my face, and force me to dig deeper. He has done that and more.”
Reynolds is a successful playwright and screenwriter who has had nine plays produced in New York and five scripts made into movies in Hollywood. His plays include “Yanks 3, Detroit 0; Top of the Seventh,” “Geniuses,” “Stonewall Jackson’s House” and his own one-man show, “Dinner with Demons.” For six years, he wrote a bi-weekly food column for The New York Times, and Random House recently published his memoir, “Wrestling with Gravy.”
Reynolds screenwriting credits include the Dudley Moore comedy “Micki and Maude,” “The Distinguished Gentleman,” and “My Stepmother is an Alien.” He collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola on a book about the making of “Apocalypse Now.” A gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation (named for his father) of $1.75 million to the “Campaign for Denison” in the early 1990s established the Jonathan R. Reynolds Distinguished Chair in Theatre, a summer creative writing program, and a program that brings distinguished playwrights to campus.
Booher is well-known in local theatre circles for her acting with the Licking County Players, the Welsh Hills Players and the Weathervane Playhouse. She was a founding member of both the Welsh Hills and Weathervane companies and currently is serving as vice president of the Weathervane Board. Following graduation from Denison, Booher spent 25 years teaching and directing the drama program at Newark High School. A member of the Coldwell Banker King Thompson agency, she has been a realtor for 15 years. “I’ll be providing the off-stage voice for the show and I am excited to be a part of this,” says Booher. “I’m enjoying the opportunity to work with dear friends.”
While his “Father/Son and Holy Ghost” cohorts all pursued careers in the theatre, Armstrong’s path took a detour. Following his Denison years, he earned a master’s degree in cinema and a law degree. He also served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador. In the 1980s Armstrong served on the staff of the North American Congress on Latin America, writing for its journal and traveling the country talking about U.S. foreign policy there. He has specialized in community and affordable housing development, working primarily for nonprofit and church-based organizations, most recently concentrating his work in New Jersey.
Armstrong returned to his first love — acting — in 2000, appearing in off-off Broadway productions and with the New York Classical Theatre, Columbia Stages, and Innwood Shakespeare Festival companies. He recently had a small role in the independent film, “The Wackness,” starring Ben Kingsley. He is excited to rejoin his fellow Denison Summer Theatre players, observing that “Father/Son and Holy Ghost is a very compelling play. Ultimately, it’s a play about a father and son who love and respect each other but who have never been really able to communicate with one another. Maybe that distance is inevitable,” Armstrong reflected. “But I think that in contemporary America, that distance is more common than we would like to think. And fathers and sons grieve that separation.”
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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