Star-Bulletin Features

Sam Polson, second from right, is surrounded by supporting cast members of "Harvey," presented by TheActors Group at Yellow Brick Studio.

For actor, not shaving a
simple matter of face

By John Berger

Carl Perkins was the one who first told the world, "You can do anything, but don't step on my blue suede shoes." Sam Polson feels the same way about shaving.

Polson takes the profession of acting as seriously as anyone, but if you want him on your stage, you've got to accept the fact that his neatly trimmed gray-white beard is part of the package.

"I've had this beard since 1979, and I have lost out on a number of parts because I wouldn't shave. I've been asked (if I'd shave) a number of times, and the answer has always been no," Polson said.

Polson is reprising his popular portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd in the Actors Group production of "Harvey." It's the second time in a year that TAG has done the show, and Polson's performance last spring helped make the first staging of the whimsical story one of TAG's most successful productions.

Playwright Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a gentle, wealthy eccentric whose best friend is an invisible 6-foot rabbit is set in a small American town sometime in the early 1940s. Most American men were clean-shaven in those days. So was Jimmy Stewart when he played Elwood in the classic film. On the other hand, Elwood would have grown up at a time when older men still considered beards fashionable, and as a guy out of step with modern society, well, who says Elwood couldn't have had an old-fashioned beard?

"There's nothing that really spells it out in the script, but as I see him, he's not really concerned with such things as fashions or what's up to date and what's passé. It doesn't enter into his mind," Polson said.

Whatever the rationale, this is the third time that Polson has played Elwood. He first appeared in the role in 1988 in a theater outside Washington, D.C. At that audition he told the director that he'd wanted to play Elwood for years and that he wouldn't accept another role.

"I'd seen it in the '40s, and Joe E. Brown was playing Elwood, and I thought it was great. I didn't start acting until I was in my mid-50s, but it was a thing that I had in the back of my head -- if I ever did a play, that was the one I wanted to do."

Polson got the part.


Presented by The Actors Group
Where: Yellow Brick Studio, 625 Keawe St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 7.
Tickets: $10
Call: 591-7999

Aside from the question of personal values, Polson has had another reason in recent years to keep his beard intact. He enjoys a parallel career appearing as Gen. Robert E. Lee at Civil War conventions and re-enactment events. Would Lee appear with a fake "Santa Claus" beard? Never in a million years!

"There's no way I could shave (and be a credible general)," Polson said.

Hawaii got an opportunity to see him as Lee in full uniform last May when he and Earll Kingston presented their two-man play, "We Meet at Appomattox," as a work in progress at TAG. (Act 1 leads up to Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, and was written using government documents, eyewitness accounts and the public statements of Lee and Grant; Act 2 offers the playwrights' educated guess on what the two discussed when Lee visited Grant in the White House in 1870.)

A suggestion that the DOE should fund the show for performances at local high schools is moving forward. TAG principal Brad Powell received funding from the DOE; Polson and Kingston performed Act 1 for the cameras in December; and the piece is now being edited for school use.

Polson and Kingston have also gotten good response elsewhere.

"We took it to the Chicago area where they were having a Civil War re-enactment, and actually got a standing ovation at one of our shows, which just really blew Earll and me away. I think we're going to take it back there again, and we've had some feelers from a theater in Half Moon Bay, just across the bay from San Francisco, so things are looking interesting."

But back to "Harvey." Polson says he's having a great time. Patrick Casey, S. Rick Crump and Mary Frances Kabel-Gwin are also returning from last year's TAG production. Po'okela Award-winning actress Dorothy Stamp is one of 10 new cast members. Jake Cofone is making his local debut as the show's director.

"I think we've got a really good cast, and I'm enjoying working with Jake. I don't want to reveal any secrets, but there are going to be some new twists and some surprises in this show that we didn't have in the last one. We're just hoping that it will be as successful as it was last year."

What's made "Harvey" so popular all these years?

"I think it's a play that is comfortable to people. It was written right in the middle of World War II, and it makes no illusions whatsoever to the war or anything that was going on. I think it was popular at that time because it was an escape mechanism, and there are a lot of things going on today that people want to escape from -- even at this time last year (before the Sept. 11 attacks). A telephone and a taxicab are about the only modern conveniences that are mentioned.

"It's light, but there are some pretty deep philosophies going on in there. It's one of my favorites, definitely."

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