Stacy Keach Is Back!
In the revival of Pamplona, resilient actor returns to the Goodman Theater as novelist Ernest Hemingway
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HIGHLAND PARK native Lauren Tom has come a long way since, at 17, she first dabbled in show business as a dancer in A Chorus Line, a performance that prompted her to study acting.
That decision has helped her climb the Hollywood ladder and become one of the industry’s most respected entertainers, carving out a 30-year career that has highlighted her multiple skills on Broadway, television and movies. Currently, she is one of the lead characters in the Disney Channel’s No. 1 series Andi Mack, where Tom stars as a Chinese-American grandmother who is the family’s matriarch.
Recently, the former co-star of “Facts of Life,” “The Middle” and “Grey’s Anatomy” returned to Chicago to motivate nearly 400 students in association with the U.S. Asia Institute’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a period of recognition to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success. Her message to the students? “It’s OK to be who you are, and you’re not alone,” she said. “At the end of the day, what people want is to connect and belong.”
It didn’t take long for the Obie Award-winning actress to prove that she belonged in Hollywood, and her résumé has included films such as The Joy Luck Club, Bad Santa, When A Man Loves A Woman and Mr. Jones, with TV roles from "The Newsroom" to "Supernatural" to "Pretty Little Liars." But perhaps her most notable TV role has been a brief stint as
Ross’ (David Schwimmer) girlfriend on “Friends.” During seven episodes on the show, Tom was kind of a lightning rod for fans of the show, some who didn’t like the fact that she had taken Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) place in Ross’ heart. “Fans still get angry about that,” she says. “There was a live audience [during filming of the show], and they would boo me when I came on because they really wanted Ross to be with Rachel.”
Not to be discouraged, Tom moved on and exhibited even more of her talents, using her voice in popular animated series such as "Futurama," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," "Pound Puppies," "Teacher’s Pet," "Batman Beyond" and "Mulan 2."
Now, it’s all about Andi Mack, the much talked-about series, where Andi, played by 13-year-old Peyton Elizabeth Lee, was abandoned by her teenaged mother. Enter Lauren Tom as Celia Mack, Andi’s grandmother who made her believe that she and Andi’s grandfather were her parents––and her real mom was her sister.
There will be more to this continuing story when Andi Mack returns to the Disney Channel on Mondays in June.
Photography courtesy of Disney Channel
WHETHER they admit it or not, many people in the Goodman Theatre audience had come to the opening-night production of Pamplona to see just how well Stacy Keach had recovered from a mild heart attack (one that he suffered in May during the show’s previews) and to see if now he was up to the challenge of doing a 90-minute, one-man show.
The minutes leading up to Keach’s appearance on the Goodman’s Owen Theatre stage were ripe with anticipation, verging on a bit of tension among those who waited a bit impatiently to see what was about to come. Keach didn’t disappoint. Within a few minutes after the lights came up to reveal him sitting at a typewriter, the audience’s concerns had diminished as Keach slowly and convincingly morphed into celebrated writer Ernest Hemingway, struggling to write a story about the bullfights in Pamplona. He was dramatic. He was humorous. He commanded the moment. He was back!
Being back, however, meant Keach had returned to the place where he was the star of every actor’s scariest nightmare––not being able to remember the next line. Worst, he found out he had been the victim of a heart attack. His, he says, was not the typical heart attack with chest pains, but on stage he “felt like a fog rolled in over my brain cells,” and he just couldn’t remember his next line. Doctors at Northwestern Hospital assessed his condition and a triple-bypass later the 77-year-old actor was back to finish what he started.
In Jim McGrath’s Pamplona, directed by Robert Falls, Keach portrays Hemingway at a time after he has won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, and now, holed up in a Spanish hotel facing an approaching deadline, he frustratingly can’t come up with the words to describe the matadors and their expertise inside the bullfighting arena.
Throughout the presentation, Keach’s Hemingway character tells some engaging stories about people and incidents in his life––a life that now finds him in poor health, troubled by the preoccupation with his problematic fourth marriage and anguished by the fallout of past glories. All have combined to land the author of masterpieces such as The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls on the verge of being consumed by despair.
Regarding Keach himself, though, his return was characterized by all the grit and determination he previously exhibited in various TV, stage and film projects that have shaped his long and impressive career. Considered by many observers to be the foremost American interpreter of Shakespeare after putting his signature on roles in productions such as Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, Keach, a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, has been honored with multiple prestigious awards, including a Golden Globe, three OBIEs, three Vernon Rice Awards, a Hollywood Film Award, two Drama Desk Awards, three Helen Hayes Awards and the 2016 Best Narrator Award from the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences.
While the return to Pamplona represents a new beginning for Keach, it isn’t the first time the renowned actor has portrayed Hemingway, with the first portrayal earning him a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy nomination for his work in the 1988 television mini-series "Hemingway."
In retrospect, perhaps Keach’s biggest victory is his resilience and dedication to his craft that put him back in the game. He has been commended for returning to the stage so soon after such devastating events that would have crushed a lesser actor. But leading up to his dramatic re-emergence, it’s likely he had some jitters. At the end, when he took a bow, it was as if his huge smile was screaming “I did it!” Not surprisingly, there was relief for those in the audience as well, all of whom were pulling for him, and with sustained applause, celebrated this triumphant comeback with him.
For more information and tickets to Pamplona, which runs through August 19, go to www.goodmantheatre.org.
"[I] felt like a fog rolled in over my brain cells."