Thursday, April 5, 2012
It has been hailed as one of the greatest movies of all time, winning eight Academy Awards for an all-star cast that included Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden. But for playwright Budd Schulberg, himself an Oscar winner for Best Story and Screenplay, the 1954 film version of "On the Waterfront" was never quite the story he wanted told.
Having had subtle changes made to the script by director Elia Kazan, Schulberg took the unusual step of adapting his work to a stage play more than 40 years after the iconic film debuted. It is this often overlooked version of the union violence and corruption on the docks of New York that is presented by The American Century Theatre, now playing at Gunston Theatre II in Arlington and starring Springfield resident Jack Powers.
"I know I have this specter hovering above me," Powers said following the opening night performance March 30. "I wasn't allowed to see the movie so that I can bring my own nuances to the role."
In addition to Powers, director Kathleen Akerley has assembled a brilliant ensemble cast to tell Schulberg's story of the kid who "coulda been a contender," fighter Terry Malloy who reluctantly becomes a hero for facing down mob boss Johnny Friendly.
IN THE CENTRAL ROLE of Terry, immortalized by Marlon Brando in the film, is Powers, a newcomer to American Century.
"I feel good about how the show is going," said Powers, whose previous credits include "Hamlet" with the Maryland Renaissance Faire and "Carol's Christmas" with Pinky Swear Productions. "Although I'm not sure an actor is ever satisfied with his performance in any role."
Powers' on-stage nemesis is Johnny Friendly, played by the award-winning Bruce Alan Rauscher. Rauscher, one of the finest actors in the region, turns in a fierce performance as the brute fury crime boss.
Matt Dewberry joins Powers and Rauscher as a leading presence in the play as the gritty and brave Father Barry, who defies the system rather than be a pawn in the ruthless killings.
Caitlin Shea is excellent as the naïve but feisty Edie Doyle, whose brother was murdered with the unwitting help of Terry. Shea and Powers share a palpable connection as Edie brings out a tenderness and consciousness in Terry's heart where none existed before.
"This is a wonderful cast to work with," said Powers, who earned a degree in theater from Muhlenberg College. "They are all so talented and have made this an incredible experience for me."
In a production filled with notable performances, other standouts include Graham Pilato as the reporter who chronicles and eventually breaks open the corruption of the docks, Christopher Herring as Charlie "The Gent" Malloy, and Tyler Herman, who admirably and seamlessly tackles four roles, beginning with the murdered Joey Doyle.
Rounding out the cast are Daniel Corey, Joe Cronin, Cyle Durkee, Christopher Holbert and William Haynes.
Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden (scenic design) and Marianne Meadows (lighting design) combine to powerful effect to transform the intimate theater from grim waterfront dock to church sanctuary to tenement rooftop.
"It's been tricky trying to portray such an iconic film figure," Powers said. "Now that we have begun performances, I might actually watch the film before the end of our run."
"ON THE WATERFRONT" is playing now through April 28 at Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. For tickets or more information, call 703-998-4555 or visit www.americancentury.org.