Review: ‘Tribute’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

Scottie Templeton is dying. And with that deadly diagnosis, Tribute, by Bernard Slade, now playing at the Greenbelt Arts Center, poignantly considers what’s really important in life and the relationships that make it all matter. Directed by Gayle Negri and produced by her better half, Andy Negri, Tribute touches the heart as it heals the relationship between a dying father and his son. But not before the unspoken disappointments and grievances between them break loose only to find freedom in forgiveness and reconciliation.

When Scottie learns that he has a life-threatening illness, he confronts the challenge of his life physically but also emotionally when he decides to make amends with Jud, his stoically upright and uptight 20 year old son. It was interesting to observe one’s reaction to the juxtaposition between values we are taught to esteem:  responsibility, integrity and commitment as opposed to laissez fair irresponsibility and flagrantly unprincipled character as contrasted by Scottie and Jud. Uncannily, in Tribute, being vulnerable and authentically human win the day over the tried and dependably true.

As the protagonist in Tribute, Scottie, a fun-loving womanizer just turning 51, possesses pretty much none of those esteemed virtues but everybody loves him anyway, even his ex-wife Maggie. Sometime PR man, scriptwriter and Broadway press agent, Scottie was never really serious or good at any of it, including being a good father, but he has a stockpile of friends, bosses and lovers who adore him nevertheless. Scottie’s innumerable character flaws are overlooked by the sheer joy of living he exudes that seems to rub off on everyone in his orbit.

Everyone except Jud, that is, who has little respect for Scottie and is only sticking around to see if he can help out when he finds out about of Scottie’s health crisis. Jud has always resented Scottie because of the neglect and abandonment he suffered caused by Scottie’s self-declared penchant for “having a good time.” The dysfunctional dynamics of this difficult father-son relationship are fully explored in Tribute and form the core of this play.

With a Jack Nicholson kind of bad-boy joie de vivre, Larry LaRose, is superb as the fun-loving but irresponsible Scottie Templeton. His charming spirits and upbeat energy carry the show and it’s hard not to like this guy.

With a perpetually distraught look of pensive disdain for Scottie, Carlo Olivi gives a standout performance as Jud Templeton, complete with the lingering stutter he acquired in the emotional fallout from a bitter divorce between his parents.

Scottie literally charms the pants off his remarried ex-wife Maggie Stratton, played with softly sensual appeal by Barbara Lambert that belies her faithful good girl image.

As Lou Daniels the friend/boss, Bob Kleinberg is the straight man to Scottie’s lovingly playful vieux garcon. Kleinberg gives a strong performance as the dependable comrade that Scottie can rely upon. And it is Lou who spear heads birthday honors for Scottie on the stage of a New York theater where friends and family gather in the audience in a surprise tribute.

Mary Rogers is terrific as Hilary, a former happy hooker friend of Scottie’s, who is known to let the good times roll right along with him and who comes to Scottie’s aid during his illness.

Edye Smith gives a believably caring but no-nonsense performance as Dr. Gladys Petrelli, Scottie’s medic-lover who makes him seek treatment to extend his life. She gives a sense of steadiness in her relationship with Scottie who is inclined to just let-the chips-fall-where-they-may when it comes to taking care of himself.

Sally Haines, Scottie’s friend, is a young woman of Jud’s age who nevertheless resonates with Scottie’s youthful charm even as he tries to play matchmaker between Sally and Jud.  Elizabeth Dapo’s delightful performance as Sally is just the right mix of happy-go-lucky perkiness and stability. She realizes the value of emotional balance but also knows the importance of just living life and enjoying the ride. Sally acts as welcomed leverage to Jud’s stoicism and overly seriousness.

Tribute’s ensemble works very well together and every one of the actors did a really fine job in bringing playwright Bernard Slade’s work to life.

A simple living room period set by John Decker is the scene for much of the action for Tribute that takes place in New York City in the late 70s. In first-person narratives in which the actors draw the audience interactively into the unfolding events, the stage of a New York theater on the other side of the curtain, also adds to the practical simplicity of the set design.

One of the most effective and emotional moments of Tribute, however, is a projected photo collage of Scottie’s hospital stay after he concedes to seek treatment. The heart-rending photos of Scottie in a hospital gown with friends and family at his bedside are richly felt in a kind of captured realism that the medium of photography can uniquely give.

Still photography by Kristopher Northrup and videography by George Wood brought even greater authenticity to the live action of the performers. It was as if seeing the still life of the photos froze in time all of the emotions the actors were portraying, not in a static way,  rather in more intimate aliveness in seeing and feeling those relationships. The photos were very effective for developing the story, the characters and the emotional content of the play.

Tribute is an emotionally moving production well worth seeing. It exalts the human dimension, the importance of the joy of living, and the power of forgiveness. Its themes pay tribute to what it means to be human — warts and all– and the strength of loving relationships, which after all is said and done, is what it’s really all about.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Tribute plays through May 13, 2017, at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8700, or purchase them online.

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