‘Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose’
Through Feb. 7
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington
Ed Dixon is a compelling storyteller.
His memoir “Secrets of a life Onstage … And Off,” includes tales of a difficult childhood, big Broadway success and overcoming drug addiction. And now with his new one-man show “Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose,” currently playing at Signature Theatre, Dixon puts the spotlight on his close friendship with famed English character actor George Rose that began with a national tour of “The Student Prince” in the early ‘70s and ended abruptly when Rose was murdered by his adopted son at his vacation home in the Dominican Republic in 1988.
“When I met George, I was a dumb kid from Oklahoma. I didn’t know anything,” says Dixon, 67. “And he was a powerful, successful man who was openly gay. That was life changing for me. I’d never seen that before. And George was openly hilariously gay. He’d refer to himself that oldest white woman in show business and things like that. As a young gay man, it was astounding to me that he could feel free enough to express himself in that way, but he could.”
After “The Student Prince” tour ended, Dixon and Rose’s paths continued to cross in New York and summer stock. Soon, a close friendship forged. When the established Rose went to Dixon for voice lessons (in addition to successful actor, composer and playwright, Dixon is a highly sought after voice coach) and the bond further intensified.
And while Rose was a Tony Award-winning Broadway actor, he was also an eccentric (he kept a pet lynx in his New York apartment) and a first class raconteur, says Dixon. He’d been everywhere and knew everyone. He would drop into the voices of famous friends like Noel Coward, Gladys Cooper, Laurence Olivier or Ralph Richardson when they’d show up in his conversation. Two years ago, Dixon started putting his memories of Rose to paper.
Told in the first person, “Georgie” recounts 25 years of friendship. Like Rose, Dixon adroitly slips into the voices of about 30 characters including Rose and some of his storied pals.
“Ed does all the voices,” says “Georgie’s” director and Signature’s out artistic director Eric Schaeffer. “A longtime voice teacher and an actor, Ed knows the instrument and how to manipulate it. He makes it look easy.”
“The show is especially interesting because it’s so personal,” Schaeffer says. “It’s about George Rose yes, but it’s also and the personal friendship and working and living in the theater. Fittingly the set is an old back stage with a wall of hemp lines, ghost lights and a dilapidated proscenium. It’s evocative of that world. It’s also about thinking you know someone when you really don’t. There are many layers to it and Ed has given it an unpredictable structure.”
Midway through, the play takes a dark turn. On a visit to Rose’s Caribbean retreat, Dixon learns unsettling things about his longtime friend, which ultimately contribute to Rose’s violent death.
“I’d been quoting George all my life but it takes time to be in a place where you can tell this kind of story. I’ve lost friends in my life, but having a close friend be murdered is an inexpressible thing. And I needed a place to do it where I’d feel comfortable. At Signature, the rehearsal process has been so gracious. Eric [Schaeffer] and lighting designer Chris Lee are my good friends. I’m telling my most personal story and get to do it with people I love. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Dixon doesn’t expect all of today’s audiences to be familiar with Rose and his cast of famous and fascinating friends.
“I hope it’s like when you look at the characters in the bar in the ‘Star Wars’ movie, you don’t need to know anything about them except that they’re interesting characters. Writing about the past is truly a healing experience. It’s amazing the details that return and how you re-experience the relationship. Initially I didn’t think I’d remember enough and then the memories came flooding back.”