When Roland Gomez was 9, he landed the understudy role of Harlan Day in the Broadway production of "Life with Father." Every night he would go to the theater and wait until 8:30 p.m. to see if he would be needed. Much to his dismay, he never got the chance to perform the role on stage. However, in the last month, Gomez has had the chance to revisit the beloved play from his past – only this time, he is in the role of director.
"This is the first time I've been able to do the show since then, but I've always wanted to do it," said Gomez, who is directing the McLean Community Players upcoming production of "Life with Father." "I just love the show period, but I guess it's a little bit of déjà vu going back to something I knew so many years ago."
Originally from New York, Gomez started acting professionally at the age of 4. He eventually decided that he preferred directing and went on to become a professional director for many years. Today, Gomez enjoys directing community theater shows, and has directed several productions for the Great Falls Players, which recently merged with McLean's Community Alliance Supporting Theater (CAST), to become the McLean Community Players.
"Life with Father," written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, is an adaptation of Clarence Day's autobiographical work of the same title. Published in 1935, Day's book details the humorous episodes in his family's life in the 1890s in New York City. The Lindsay and Crouse play debuted on Broadway in 1939, and still holds the record for the number of performances by a non-musical. The Day family is made up of the irritable father Mr. Day, the devoted and determined wife and mother Vinnie, and the four sons, Harlan, John, Whitney and Clarence, who range in age from 6 to 17.
Gomez says that the show appeals to audiences because it touches on situations that almost everyone can relate to in some way.
"It's just fun to watch this family with problems that are really universal," he said. "It's the same problems that we have today with kids, where each one wants to do his own thing – we all went through it."
VIENNA RESIDENT Philip Baedecker plays the role of the father, Mr. Day. Baedecker was familiar with the show, having played Harlan when he was 9, and the father in the 1990 Reston Theater Company production of the show.
"He's just such a domineering character in many respects, but he has his idiosyncrasies and his weaknesses as well," said Baedecker. "He's just such an interesting character."
Baedecker studied theater as a student at Ohio State University, and has been performing in community theater productions since 1975. He has also worked in some professional productions in the area.
"[Acting] kind of gets in your blood, and once it gets under your skin, it's hard to get it out," said Baedecker. "I enjoy the craft, I enjoy the challenges of it, and I enjoy the experience of performing on stage in front of an audience."
Like Gomez, Baedecker has a nostalgic attachment to "Life with Father."
"It has a certain amount of appeal to me partly because it was the third play I was ever in, in my life, and partly because I have a warm spot in my heart for it," he said.
McLean resident Jennifer Levy plays the role of Cousin Cora, the overbearing but endearing relative who, much to the dismay of Mr. Day, comes to stay with the Day family in their New York residence.
"I look at her as definitely a comedic center," said Levy. "I figured there has to be a reason why the father dislikes having her come, but I didn't want to be dreadful – just slightly annoying… she's kind of like that aunt that you tolerate because she means well. But she means well and she's a good soul."
Levy says that she enjoys "Life with Father's" storyline because it takes its audience to a bygone era.
"I think it's a charming show," said Levy. "It's during a sweeter time – a more innocent time – and it really makes you feel good."
Levy acted in community theater productions many years ago, but took a hiatus to raise a family. Aside from a small role in the recent McLean Community Players production of "Born Yesterday," this is the first time that Levy has performed in a stage production in 14 years. Levy said the "Life with Father" production has been one of "the most professional and collegial" community theater experiences she has ever had.
"Acting really makes you feel alive, and I think there's a sparkle about it – the way you can present terrific stories," she said. "It's a creative process, but at the same time it's not, because someone else created your palette… but you get to add to it."
AS DIRECTOR, Gomez says that he always strives to treat his actors as absolute professionals, regardless of their age or experience.
"I treat my cast with all the professionalism that a professional director would give them," said Gomez. "I don't treat them like community theater actors – even the children – I don't treat them like babies, and I think that's why we all work so well together… everybody is professional because I treat them like professionals."
McLean resident Michael Berkowitz is the youngest cast member, and plays the role of the youngest son, Harlan Day. Gomez said he enjoys working with young children like Berkowitz because it is rewarding to watch their progress.
"When they work with me they have to be professional, and it's nice to see them rise to the occasion," said Gomez. "I try to help them rise above their usual behavior, and it also helps them be respected by their elders. They know they're loved – everybody in this cast just loves them."
The McLean Community Players also plans to use its upcoming production to benefit a local McLean family that was struck by tragedy last summer. Twenty-five percent of ticket sales from the "Life with Father" matinee performances will be donated to "Brian's 5K," a fund that was established to help defray the cost of rehabilitation for Brian Anderson, a 2002 McLean High School graduate who was paralyzed from the chest down as the result of a diving accident in July 2006. Patrons who attend evening performances will also have the chance to make a donation to the fund.