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This job's aged him a few years

October 27, 2002|DON SHIRLEY

Capt. Shotover, a leading character in Shaw's "Heartbreak House," is 88 years old. So when Stephen Tobolowsky was asked to stage the play for Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, he began surveying the ranks of older actors.

The first one he found would have been "wonderful," he said, but the actor was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Tobolowsky contacted 25 other 70-plus actors, and at least two were cast at one point -- but then withdrew.

"There had to be five actors who turned me down who were just about to go into surgery," Tobolowsky said.

When the final actor pulled out -- for reasons unrelated to health -- on Oct. 7, five days before the scheduled (and already once-postponed) opening, Tobolowsky knew of no one other than himself who knew the lines. So he took over the role -- even though he's only 51. He rehearsed for two days, took off a day to work on a TV job, then performed one preview on Oct. 11 and opened in the three-hour-plus play on Oct. 12.

Tobolowsky received a Tony nomination this year for "Morning's at Seven," in the role of a 41-year-old. He'll repeat the role at the Ahmanson Theatre this year, wearing a wig "that makes me look boyish," he said.

For "Heartbreak House," he applied "the spray high school kids put in their hair when they play the adults in 'Our Town' " and a fake beard. His wife, Ann Hearn, is playing his character's daughter -- which was a little awkward, he said. Indeed, the experience "is right up there in the high-stress, low-reward theater events of my life." However, "it's such a brilliant part, I hope to do it again when I age."


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