My friend Gilbert Russak died when the Lamplighters were doing a run of Yeomen of the Guard. The timing was ironic, since the character of Jack Point in that show was one of the two for which Gilbert was most noted (KoKo in The Mikado was the other). Performers had a difficult time at the first performances after Gilbert's death, particularly when saying lines like "He was a living man and now he is dead, and so my tears may flow unchidden."
History repeats itself. Co-founder of the company, and the man at its heart for more than 60 years, Orva Hoskinson, died last week, at age 92, during a run of Patience, the show for which he is perhaps best known. His famous depiction of Reginald Bunthorne, "the fleshly poet," was once compared by San Francisco Chronicle critic Robert Commanday to John Gielgud's Hamlet ("There was Gielgud's Hamlet, and there is Hoskinson's Bunthorne.")
Orva performed all of the tenor roles over his years with the company and long after he stopped performing, he directed many, many shows. We are so fortunate that in 1975 they decided to film a production of Patience, in order to have a record of Orva's performance.
I had known Orva for a long time but was not close to him. The best time I had with him was a 2 hour interview I did for the second Lamplighters history. We were sitting alone in the house, he on one side of the room, me on the other. There was a big Boston fern off to the side. He had no animals. There were no windows open. Suddenly in the middle of our interview, the fern began to shake for no apparent reason. It shook for several seconds and then stopped. We assumed it was Gilbert deciding he wanted to be a part of the interview.
I last saw Orva in 2012 at the 60th anniversary of The Lamplighters, when he made a rare appearance on stage with an even rarer appearance with his co-founder, Ann Pool MacNab.
We went to see the current production of Patience today, meeting Char for lunch first. The company has continued to grow since the last time Orva played Bunthorne. The costumes and sets are more opulent, but there are still hints of Orva on stage, and a bit of a tear formed watching the excellent Lawrence Ewing in the role today.
The production had been dedicated to Orva, but at the curtain speech, Ewing not only talked about Orva's death and what he had meant to the company, he also announced the death of John Vlahos, who had been the company president for more than 30 years, performed with the company for many years, and even met his wife in the company. He was an all around good guy and I mourn his loss as well.
I last saw him a couple of months ago, at the Lamplighters Gala, at which he was honored (and surprised by the honor!). His cancer at that point was quite advanced and he was shadow of his former self, but still with that smile that welcomed everyone in and that made him both a good attorney and a good representative for the Lamplighters for all those years.
I had a fun interaction with John and his wife and Ann MacNab and her husband, The two couples were best friends and the had this silly plaster of Paris boat that one of them got at a Christmas party one year. They passed that boat back and forth for years, hiding it in each other's house (or office) or having it sent in some weird way. I don't know when the last exchange was or who has the boat now, but I was pleased to be the one to sneak the boat into John and Martha's house one time.
It was a big surprise to see Ann's husband Adrian, that 12 foot tall Welshman, in the audience today. I thought I saw him come in before the show, but figured it couldn't be him because Ann wasn't with him. She doesn't get around much any more -- he says her health is fine, but it just hurts too much to walk (I can identify!), but I hadn't seen him in several years and it was lovely to see him again, however briefly.
Today was just a trip down memory lane...but then these days any trip to the Lamplighters ends up being a trip down memory lane.