COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE
Billy Mitchell, standing, in a historic courtroom photo.
It was a question of loyalty
When the Army drafted actor George Segal in 1956, it forced him to leave the off-Broadway production of "The Iceman Cometh." Glenn Cannon, the University of Hawaii professor who is directing Joe Moore's "Prophecy and Honor," took over Segal's part. The two men had never met until last week, when Segal arrived in Honolulu to act in Moore's play and they discovered the connection -- more than 50 years later.
'Prophecy and Honor'
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, at the Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: $25, $35 and $48
Call: 528-0506 or visit www.hawaiitheatre.com
"It blew my mind," Segal said after completing a costume fitting at the Hawaii Theatre rehearsal hall in Kakaako. "It's a small world. That's almost like meeting my wife 45 years later (the former high school sweethearts recently married). It's so circular."
Moore's play, "Prophecy and Honor," overflows with interesting personalities and anecdotes to complement the riveting characters that comprise the story of the court-martial of Gen. Billy Mitchell in 1925 (see story at far right).
Between Moore's KHON newscasts, the actors gather for highly efficient rehearsals. Bare, fluorescent lights wash out the simple courtroom set, which consists of three folding tables. Cast members discreetly change behind the rolling clothes rack for costume fittings, because there's no dressing room.
When rehearsal starts, Cannon, 74, offers direction from his sliding rocking chair. Moore remains in character, except when he notifies Segal that he revised a line or two. Laughter occasionally interrupts the serious exchanges and laborious process of blocking and exploring the deeper meaning behind each line.
And Hollywood veteran Segal seems game for all of it.
To younger audiences, Segal is probably best known as Jack Gallo, whom he played in 148 episodes of the popular TV sitcom "Just Shoot Me!" starring David Spade and Laura San Giacomo, from 1997 to 2003. (It's now in syndication.) Previously, Segal worked with screen legends Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966, and relished a wide variety of noteworthy roles in between.
At 73, he stays fit with weights and cardiovascular exercise in the gym, as well as regular walks and swims.
"The offer came from out of the blue from Joe," said Segal, who admitted the opportunity to spend time in Hawaii appealed to him. "And I like the play. It's kind of a powerful melodrama, and I'd seen the movie (1955's 'The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell') with Gary Cooper." Besides, he added, "actors never really take vacations, so a working vacation is the best thing. For (my wife and me), this is like a honeymoon!"
Cannon, directing his 138th production in Hawaii, played the part Richard Dreyfuss has now taken in "Prophecy and Honor," when it was first staged at Diamond Head Theatre in 1993. That is why Moore called Cannon first when he wanted to revive the play to honor the 60th anniversary of the Air Force.
"It's going to be terrific," Cannon said. "It's a fascinating premise, which is not disassociated with what's happening currently in the world. There's a sense of honor and truth that's paramount for a man in a very difficult situation. The strength that is shown by the central character from beginning to end, even at the expense of his career -- that, to me, is the essential premise of the play."
Don Stroud, a self-described Kaimuki boy and veteran of 100 films and numerous television series, said he's flattered to participate in his first play with such experienced stage actors. Is he intimidated by the influx of Hollywood talent?
Stroud smiled. "No, not at all. I'm an old surfer!" Big-wave competitions at Makaha, he said, "now that's intimidating."
Still, Stroud left nothing to chance.
"Don is the most prepared actor I've worked with in a long time," noted Cannon.
"Next to Joe!" Stroud corrected.
"He came with all his lines learned right at the outset," continued Cannon, who described the "wonderful working together feeling that has permeated the cast from the very beginning."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Richard Dreyfuss rehearsed Joe Moore's play "Prophecy and Honor" at the Hawaii Opera Theatre rehearsal hall on Aug. 10.
THOUGH DREYFUSS has called the performance a "reading," it is much closer to a full production, with costumes, lighting, blocking and extensive rehearsals. Most of the cast memorized their lines. But professionals like Dreyfuss and Segal and Terence Knapp, with reams of historically accurate dialogue to recite, may "work from the script (disguised as court documents) at their discretion," according to the play's official notice.
No matter what the format, Moore hopes the audience will find the subject matter compelling and enjoyable. "I love pieces which educate people by entertaining," he said.
Segal agreed, and said he looked forward to the live shows. To him, the audience is "everything," though it differs in each arena. Before a performance with Mary Tyler Moore decades ago, he recalled feeling nervous. But the actress told him that he should view the studio audience as a prop to laugh with him and assist him. "And that changed everything for me," he said.
But theater demands that actors capture people's attention on a more complex level. "The audience is another character in the play; in this case, they'd be like the jury," Segal explained. "It ain't a show until they are there, and winning them is everything." But the presence of other seasoned performers makes a difference. "I know that I'm going to be protected, and that I'll be able to contribute," he said. "It's a great feeling of anticipation."