For all of his 51 years, Scotty Templeton has been allergic to reality. He can’t take anything seriously. Since he could never become an actual performer (because he’d have to take it seriously), he makes the world his straight man. He’s made numerous friends, from headliners to streetwalkers.
Scotty lived the Peter Pan Syndrome. But he’s been diagnosed with leukemia, and Peter’s “wires are beginning to show.” It’s time to grow up and face his denials. The gravest of these, his estranged, morose son Jud, appears to be sunny Scotty’s exact opposite. Jud says Scotty’s been an absent father since age eight.
Make no mistake: Father and son will grow together in Bernard Slade’s Tribute (1978). Author of Same Time, Next Year (which put many a juicy thought in many an errant mind), Slade will even strain credibility to make it happen.
Scripps Ranch Theatre and director Francis Gercke do a decent job with the material, but the book’s wires — talky text, dated references, and cheap emotional appeals — are showing.
Scotty’s a tough role to play. Not only is he almost always on stage, having to machine-gun punchlines, the specter of Jack Lemmon hovers overhead. Lemmon’s performances on stage and in the movie are the reasons Tribute had legs.
As Scotty, Robert May’s best moments come when he isn’t supposed to be glib. At one point, as desperation breaks through Scotty’s chipper veneer, May does a slow, silent, stunning take. But he delivers Scotty’s patter with rat-a-tat sameness. He runs through the jokes as if they’re just filler, and not meant to be funny. More variety would help here, urgency too, since Scotty takes his ability to make people laugh with utmost seriousness.
As written, Jud is a one-note dud and needs an actor to flesh out an actual person. Jake Rosko’s Jud needs more nuance. He’s solemn in a generalized way, which makes the emotional thaw less credible.
The supporting cast is obviously having fun. Fred Harlow does a masterful job as Lou Daniels, MC at the tribute. He becomes progressively blotto, and his sudden gusts of laughter are a joy. Julie Sachs, as Scotty’s ex-wife Maggie, puts the history of their relationship into knowing and still-loving looks. Laura Bohlin’s life-embracing Sally Haines and Sherryl Wynne’s Dr. Gladys Petrelli bookend Scotty: Sally as in-the-moment spontaneity; Gladys as a human stop sign. And where has Morgan Carberry been? Her Hilary, the streetwalker with a well-oiled accent and precisely detailed movements, is hilarious. Remember her name.
Teri Brown’s costumes delineate character, but might have hit the period — flared pants and lapels and all that polyester of 1978 — harder.
Andy Scrimger’s set introduces Scotty before he comes on stage: the living room includes manikins decked in exotic outfits, posters from Broadway shows, and a dangling rubber chicken. It’s the man cave of a child who never grew up.