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Ganssle is hilarious in Merry Wives

by Laura Durant

Comedy is tough, dying is easy - or so the saying goes. Gene Ganssle, who portrays the ever-popular knight Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare Sedona’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, has been toughing-out the comedy genre in Phoenix for most of his life.

Ganssle’s specialty is physical comedy as evidenced by his resume, which is liberally sprinkled with fight choreographer positions, pantomime performances and dance troupes. If truth were known, he even did a tour of duty as the infamous “Ruby Pinkbottom” in the long-running Phoenix production of Murder At Rutherford House. Ganssle was fearless when it came to donning pink shoes and false eyelashes.

“I borrowed everything from my wife,” said Ganssle. His pursuit of the belly laugh knows no bounds!

Ganssle’s break into the professional realm of theater in the late 1980’s was no less outlandish. Little did he realize a seemingly innocent production of Tomfoolery, at Tempe’s Mill Avenue Theater, would smash attendance records on its way to a year-long engagement. He didn’t waste any time celebrating his success. Ganssle took his leap of faith into the performing arts by quitting his day job in a jewelry store - and hasn’t looked back.

In the years since following, he’s earned high marks for such physically comedic Shakespearian roles as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Parolles in All’s Well that Ends Well.

But the portly Falstaff has been the most challenging role for him since it requires him to perform nightly stage antics while wearing a fat suit. To see Ganssle prance and pose with such grace is reminiscent of his hero, Jackie Gleason. The famed comedian was noted for his agility in spite of his girth.

“Jackie’s been my idol all my life,” he said. “And The Merry Wives of Windsor is a perfect match for Gleason’s brand of situation comedy.”

One of the highlights of the show is when Falstaff must crawl into a very large basket of dirty laundry. “It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Ganssle said. “The whole scene was carefully orchestrated. An important part of physical comedy is finding the limits of what can be done and what gets the laugh. It’s a delicate mix.”

Ganssle joins a hilarious cast that includes Andi Watson, Eric Holmes, Don Kruszka, and Maren McLaren.

In contrast to the animated Falstaff, Ganssle also has been cast as Doc Gibbs in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, this summer’s second offering by Shakespeare Sedona. “Doc is down to earth, that makes for a interesting balance in roles,” he said.

Over the years, Ganssle’s desire to reach out to the audience has gone beyond the theater and into the general community. He’s a member of Book Pals, an organization where performing artists volunteer to read to children in school literacy programs, and he’s also politically active with both a mayoral and city council campaign under his belt.

The Shakespeare Sedona Festival runs July 12 through July 28, featuring The Merry Wives of Windsor and Our Town inside the Sedona Cultural Park Annex at the Sedona Red Rock High School Auditorium in West Sedona.

For tickets, call 800-780-ARTS

Our Town celebrates the human spirit

by Laura Durant

Our Town play Sedona

Sometimes in life we have to stop and reflect. We just need to take a breather, a break from the daily grind.

Sometimes we have to put aside such things as the war on terrorism, the accounting scandals, and the grating popularity of the Osbournes. Sometimes we just need to examine the individual tiles that constitute life’s mosaic and be in awe of the colors, textures, and patterns.

Or as the omnipotent Stage Manager of Thornton Wilder’s American classic Our Town encapsulated in his view of people, “Whenever you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense.... we all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names...that something has to do with human beings.”

This triumph of the human spirit and the ideals that are part of our culture in this post-September 11, post-Enron era is celebrated in another successful summer theatrical season as the Sedona Shakespeare presents Our Town, inside the Sedona Cultural Park Annex at the Sedona Red Rock High School Auditorium, July 19 through July 27, 2002.

 The show is directed by Jared Sakren, the group’s artistic director.

“Our Town takes you to places that are magical,” said Sakren.  “It’s about all those memorable fleeting moments that take place over the course of this lifetime.”

The cast features veteran actor Sandy Elias as the Stage Manager; Julliard student Bree Elrod as Emily; Sam Lofberg as Emily’s love interest, George; Maren Maclean and Bruce Laks as Emily’s parents; veteran actor Gene Ganssle and Sedona actress Teresa Hawkins, who play Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs; and local stage veteran Michael Peach, who plays troubled Simon Stimson.

Our Town is an intimate story of genuine people that tells neither the best of times nor the worst of times but of time and events in transition: old ways and old ideas are succumbing to all things new and different perceptions. Time is an essential element in this play, as we witness a shift of time and occurrences as the story unfolds.

Throughout the play, thanks in part to the ever-present Stage Manager and his narration, we are drawn into the lives of these Americans and the celebration of life that is joyfully embraced; or, as the Stage Manager tells us: “You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life ... It’s what they call a vicious circle.”

It is a story that teaches us not to cling to the past, but to help understand where we’ve come from in order to guide us on where we must go; or, as one of the characters asks in the play: “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?”

In this Pulitzer Prize winning drama, we visit the residents of Grover’s Corners in the early Twentieth Century. It is an inspirational American classic that depicts the lives of these ordinary New Englanders and their views of love, death, and marriage. The circle of life continues on as the characters celebrate the joys of life through the lives of two families set in the serene environs of this fictional town.

The Shakespeare Sedona Festival runs July 12 through July 28, featuring Our Town and Merry Wives of Windsor inside the Sedona Cultural Park Annex at the Sedona Red Rock High School Auditorium, 992 Upper Red Rock Loop Road, across the Street from the Sedona Cultural Park. For tickets, call 800-780-ARTS or 928-203-4TIX.

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