Among February’s theater offerings is a classic play starring a well-known local actor who’s done Shakespeare professionally.
The surprise: The play, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” is a production of the Olympia High School theater department.
Actor and director Brian Tyrrell, a veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is playing the stage manager, who serves as narrator and guide to the action in the play within the play, a tale of life in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.
Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is often called the classic American play. “It’s one of my favorite plays,” said director Kathy Dorgan.
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She’d long wanted to direct it, but hesitated because she wanted to do justice to the script’s depth, much of which comes through the stage manager.
“The stage manager has three- and four-page monologues,” Dorgan said. “And I felt that would be better played by an adult because he has a sort of omniscient air about him.”
That’s why she called on Tyrrell, a recently retired Centralia College drama professor. “He’s a wonderful director, but I think the actor gets missed sometimes,” she said. “His realness and presence on stage are remarkable.”
It’s only the third time in 19 years of teaching drama that she’s cast a non-student, she said. The others were in “King Lear” and Tom Stoppard’s Hamlet-inspired tragicomedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”
Tyrrell, 65, will be competing with himself when he takes the stage. He’s directing Olympia Family Theater’s “Starry Messenger,” continuing through Feb. 12.
In fact, he’s best known locally as a director, having helmed shows for Harlequin Productions and the now-defunct Capital Playhouse. In 2010, he directed Dorgan in Harlequin’s “Rabbit Hole.”
But he began his theatrical career as an actor. He worked with the National Shakespeare Co. and at Shakespeare festivals in both Oregon and Alabama.
Though he finds directing “exhilarating,” he prefers to act. “Being an actor is more fun,” Tyrrell said. “You only have to concern yourself with yourself.”
This is his third go-round with “Our Town” — he played Doc Gibbs at age 25 and directed it at the college at 45 — and he said he understands it more deeply now.
“The universal truths resonate more for me now,” he said. “I think you have to have lived life a little while to really understand the significance of this piece of writing.
“It reminds us of how important the little things in life are and how we all too often take them for granted. ‘Our Town’ is about that.”
He’s eager to dive into more projects — both acting and directing —— now that his schedule has opened up.
“Fortunately, theater has plenty of opportunities for somebody in his 60s to continue to work,” he said. “I don’t think this is the end.
“I’m not old enough or ready to play King Lear, but maybe someday.”
What: Olympia High School’s production of Thornton Wilder’s classic stars veteran actor-director Brian Tyrrell.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 3), Saturday and Feb. 9-11.
Where: Olympia High School Performing Arts Center, 1302 North St., Olympia.
Tickets: $8, $5 for students.