Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Gifted Man"'s Patrick Wilson has Ties to Barksdale

Posted by Bruce Miller
When A Gifted Man debuted on CBS night before last, I was at the wonderful opening of Becky's New Car. No problem. TiVO, my favorite bit of technology ever, was here to help me. Yesterday morning, after the necessary clicking on the remote, voila, there was Friday night's pilot, waiting patiently until I had the time to watch.

I was not about to miss this new medical / metaphysical series, mainly because it stars Patrick Wilson (pictured to the right) and an ensemble cast of acclaimed Broadway stars. Wilson is a major actor now (Tony Award nom's for The Full Monty and Oklahoma! on Broadway, Emmy nom for his great work in the HBO mini-series of Angels in America). You probably knew that already.

What you may not know is that Wilson is a Virginia native, and there's a little bit of Richmond theatre in his bloodline--a little Barksdale nestled in with all that Broadway.

When I was in 7th grade, my teacher (we had only one in those days) was Bernard Schutte. Outside of my parents, Mr. Schutte was the one person most responsible for my love of theatre. He not only acted at Barksdale, he lived at Hanover Tavern. He introduced me to an art form I knew very little about. I've always believed he was the teacher I was meant to have.

His widow Caroline Schutte continues to be a steadfast Barksdale supporter today.

During that 7th grade year, Mr. Schutte appeared as The Mute in Barksdale's Hanover Tavern production of The Fantasticks (pictured above and to the left). Starring in that production, in the role of Matt, was a young Richmond newscaster named John Wilson (pictured below and to the right). When our class went to see Mr. Schutte in his new show, he invited all the actors to meet with us in the theatre after the performance. I really enjoyed the role of Matt, so I asked John Wilson lots of questions. Seven years later, when the Barn Dinner Theatre mounted Richmond's next production of The Fantasticks, I played Matt for a 14-week run under Jack Welsh's direction.

John Wilson went on to star as Lancelot in Camelot at the Virginia Museum Theatre (1967) and Winston Garand in Generation at Barksdale (1968). I went to see him in both shows. Shortly thereafter, John Wilson moved to Norfolk to anchor WAVY TV, where he and his wife Mary gave birth to their son, Patrick, in 1973. The family subsequently moved to Tampa FL, where Patrick grew up.

In A Gifted Man, Patrick Wilson plays a world-renowned neurosurgeon whose highly ordered life and substantial wealth are turned upside down when he starts seeing and talking with his ex-wife, who, he learns midway through the pilot, died three weeks before their recent reunion. Yes, it's one of those shows. Wilson's character is brilliant, uptight and rich. The character of his ex-wife is completely (and literally) a free spirit, trying to teach him that there's more to life than being the world's best and wealthiest brain surgeon.

The ex-wife (and blithe spirit) is played by another favorite Broadway actor, Jennifer Ehle (pictured with Wilson to the left), who won two Tony's for her brilliant work in a pair of Tom Stoppard plays: The Real Thing (2000 revival) and The Coast of Utopia (2007). Ehle is the daughter of Broadway acting icon, Rosemary Harris.

Two more stage luminaries star in the ensemble cast of A Gifted Man. Margo Martindale plays the doctor's efficient assistant. She received a Tony nomination for her work as Big Mama in the 2000 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Pablo Schreiber appears as a psychic healer who attempts to address the doctor's metaphysical situation. His exceptional work in the 2006 Broadway revival of Odets' Awake and Sing! earned him a much-deserved Tony nom.

Perhaps a reason that CBS was able to recruit a cast filled with stage veterans is because the show is filmed in New York. Hopefully it will succeed, and give years of great acting opportunities to East Coast professionals.

I enjoyed the pilot of A Gifted Man, very much. If you'd like to watch it, you can by visiting the new show's website. I'm looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

I'm a big believer in supporting actors with Richmond theatre connections when they have their own TV shows. My TiVO and I can't wait for the September 28 Season Two return of Happy Endings, a GREAT half hour comedy starring our own Zach Knighton (pictured to the right).

As a final footnote, Patrick Wilson graduated from Carnegie Mellon's prestigious theatre training program, along with two other Richmond theatre All-Stars: Blair Underwood and Emily Skinner. Emily and Wilson later co-starred on Broadway in The Full Monty.

When it comes to our nation's professional theatre community, it really is a small world afterall.

--Bruce Miller

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