Say Goodnight, Gracie is a one-man show written by Rupert Holmes about the relationship between George Burns and Gracie Allen. It is essentially a love letter from a devoted husband to the wife he loved until the day she died and for many years thereafter. The premise is that Mr. Burns, who dies at 100 years old, must audition for God (who just so happens to be the character that the actor played toward the end of his life in three 'Oh God' movies) before he can enter Heaven and be reunited with his one true love. During the ninety minutes that follow (which runs without an intermission and rightly so,) the comedian shares his entire life story. It is a mix of very funny vignettes that had the audience laughing aloud, some jokes, some secrets revealed and just enough touching sections where the audience fell silent.
While Gracie Allen never appears in person on the stage, she is a strong presence throughout. Still photos and some movie clips are projected on a large screen to remind us of who she was. Many of the comedy team's contemporaries are mentioned as the story unfold; these names drew nods of recognition from the elder members of this Thursday night audience that had enjoyed pizza and a beverage before the show. Because Burns and Allen were slightly before my time, I learned a lot from this autobiography.
R. Bruce Connelly takes on the role of George Burns, first played by Frank Gorshin on Broadway, with aplomb. This gifted actor resembles the older version of the man and certainly has many of his mannerisms. He quickly had me convinced that I was listening to the man himself and I simply went along on the wonderful journey he takes onstage. Director Semina De Laurentis writes that she needed a "formidable actor with impeccable timing who could transform himself into George Burns" and that she never considered another actor for the role. He is that good; the crushing amount of lines he had to master is impressive, and he never missed a beat. I knew I had heard this actor's name before and discovered in his bio that he has played Barkley the Dog on Sesame Street since 1993.
The set is designed by the talented Erik D. Diaz and is another masterpiece. It features two caricatures of Burns and Allen and two small seating areas furnished with period-appropriate props by Daniel Husvar. Simple but very effective and used nicely. The projections, most in black and white, are not overused and the many audio cues worked almost perfectly; when they didn't Mr. Connelly covered well. A great costume by Jimmy Johansmeyer and effective lighting by Joyce Liao round out the production.
I almost decided not to make time to see this show, thinking that nothing could top Maria Baratta's one-woman Vignettes of an I-talian Girl that I had seen at Seven Angels last year. That would have been a big mistake, because nothing about Say Goodnight, Gracie disappoints. I recommend it for everyone, but especially for those of us old enough to have even an inkling of who George Burns was. This wonderfully funny and heartwarming production runs through March 10 and there are tickets available at www.sevenangelstheatre.org Make time to go see it.