People leave town. Sometimes it’s for a little while, sometimes it’s forever. Shakespeare called parting “sweet sorrow.” That phrase only captures a slice of the experience. Depending on the circumstances, it can also be exhilarating, scary, frustrating, or matter-of-fact. The one thing that’s the same regardless of the circumstance is that someone is, or several someones are, left behind.
I’m preparing to be left behind (not in the biblical, salvation sort of way) as half my family heads out of town for a couple of weeks. When I’m not feeling my own little self-involved whirl of emotions about it, I’ve been thinking about the many others who are also leaving town. There are the very public exits – the contest-winning Jason Marks who will open his first New York gig next freaking Thursday! – and the more quiet and private ones (Eric Stallings took off for Chicago shortly after “The Who’s Tommy” closed back in the springtime).
But there are at least four other theater peeps who have recently or will soon hit the road. Neither member of the adorable couple of Ellie Atwood and Jonathan Perez was chosen as the Big Broadway Break winner but my understanding is that they’re still heading to the Big Apple to try their luck up there. Ellie and Jonathan lent their considerable talents to a number of great local productions.
In particular, their roles in Stage 1’s “Summer of ‘42” and Theatre IV’s “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” will live on fondly in my memory. Jonathan has a great propensity for creating slightly nerdy characters that are not caricatures and, thanks in part to his natural charm, remain compelling even if they are doing somewhat silly things on stage. Ellie is beautiful, of course, but also brought a nicely sassy attitude to her roles. I wish them the best of luck in their future forays both onstage and off.
Also, as most everyone has probably heard, both Brett Ambler and Audra Honaker will be leaving Richmond this fall (Brett to Colorado, Audra to Chicago, I believe). Whether either of them is planning to be away permanently or temporarily, I’m not certain but regardless the blow to the local theater scene will be substantial. These are two actors who have had a significant impact on Richmond both individually and as a couple (as they are currently playing in the Mill’s “Moon Over Buffalo.”) The Stage 1 production of “tick, tick..Boom!” may have been a highlight of the two working together but it was only one among many exceptional performances each turned in.
The first time I believe I spoke to Brett was during an interview for Barksdale’s “The Drawer Boy” back in 2005. The way he held his own amongst the prodigious talents of David Bridgewater and Joe Inscoe was impressive; it may still be my favorite of his performances (though his awesome musical turns in the Mill’s “Joseph” and Theatre IV’s “Seussical” can’t be overlooked). My favorite memory of him, however, will always be his inspired ad-lib to cover a missed voice-over cue in “Children’s Letters to God.” Sometimes a drummer who also happens to be a great actor is an unexpected godsend.
Audra seemed to be in virtually every show in town for a while there and was often most memorable when unleashing bundles of energy on stage (as per “There Goes the Bride” or “Once Upon a Mattress” out at the Mill or “I Ought to Be in Pictures” at the Tavern). She has a delightful facility for somewhat extreme characterizations (the driven champion speller in “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” or the ragamuffin girl in “Urinetown”) but she is also a treat in less flashy roles – her “nice girl” ensemble role in “Summer of ‘42” being the only example that comes immediately to mind. I’d always hoped to someday see her take a shot at sublimating her energetic tendencies in a role like Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man.”
Richmond will miss all of these folks but it’ll also be a kick to have an excuse to travel out of town to see them in some new production in some far-flung locale. Also, as the recent return of Susan Sanford and Foster Solomon proved, good people sometimes come back. In the meantime, I hope they find whatever it is they want to find out there in the big wide world. And I’ll look forward to the new young local actors who may be itching to step into their shoes.