The Playgoer: Robert Prosky, Paul Benedict

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Robert Prosky, Paul Benedict

The past week saw the passing of two fine old stage actors of whom I was particularly fond, and I was saddened to just only now hear about them. Wonderful artists both, they also happened to be children of the "golden age" of 1960s regional theatre.

Robert Prosky,77, was a founding member of DC's Arena Stage whose later Broadway triumphs included the original Shelley Levine in the 1984 Glengarry Glenn Ross. On TV he starred in Hill Street Blues, but I will most fondly remember seeing him in Lee Blessing's Walk in the Woods, as Edison in the otherwise forgettable Camping with Henry and Tom, and just a few seasons ago in Michael Frayn's Democracy. He was still active on on the boards to the end, especially at the Arena and in Philly, where he just did The Price earlier this year.

Paul Benedict, 70, might actually suffer from the brilliant turns he's given in Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman (he played the title character, sort of) and Spinal Tap ("I'm just the way God made me, sir.") Not to mention years on The Jeffersons. But he started out with David Wheeler's fabled Theatre Company of Boston along with buds Pacino and Hoffman. Off Broadway in the 70s, he went on to work extensively with Jules Pfeiffer and Terence McNally (both acting and directing).

I had the privilege of getting to know him while assisting on a Boston production of Ah, Wilderness ten years ago in which he played a heartbreaking Uncle Sid--heartbreaking precisely because he refused to seek any pity in the role and just let this hollowed-out old drunk have a good time on stage, yet letting us see the fatigue and weariness in his ravaged old carcass. But nothing was as fun as playing "guess that film" with him during rehearsal breaks--where he would try to stump you with obscure lines or visual shots from old movies. ("A newspaper hits the streets as a woman walks up Broadway at dawn...")

Rest in peace, guys.

Any takers on my clue, btw?


Anonymous said...

"A newspaper hits the streets as a woman walks up Broadway at dawn..."

Any takers on my clue, btw?

If you are indeed talking about that description, then I'd say Sweet Smell of Success.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Ian Hill beat me to it.

Playgoer said...

Ding Ding, we have a winner. Sorry James, but Mr. Hill does indeed win the prize. The prize? A year's free subscription to The Playgoer of course!

Anonymous said...

Had the pleasure of working with Mr. Prosky when I was green and starting. A kind gentleman and a great actor. I learned a great deal watching him work.