If Bill Schnell were not directing the play “Tribute,” he’d be thrilled to be in the cast as the lead actor in the comedy, which opens June 26 at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
“I would have loved to play this role, absolutely,” Schnell said.
“This role” is that of Scottie Templeton, a charming, happy-go-lucky guy who for most of his life has never taken anything seriously.
Those who know Schnell, and his affinity for jokes and comedy, will recognize the resemblance. “Even Susie (Schnell, his wife) said that,” Schnell said. “The love of having fun. I can relate directly to Scottie in many ways, without question.”
But “Tribute,” it turns out, isn’t one of those farces and light-hearted comedies with which Schnell has been associated so far in his acting and directing at the Rep. Instead, there’s a serious side to the play by Bernard Slade; Templeton is fatally ill and wants to make amends with his estranged son.
“I was looking for something more challenging as a director,” Schnell said. “Something more than farce and slapstick. This one has poignancy, tears and comedy.”
Slade, the playwright, is perhaps best known as the author of “Same Time Next Year.” He also created the TV shows “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family.” “Tribute” was made into a film starring Jack Lemmon.
It was not a wildly popular film, so Schnell doubts most theater-goers will remember it. “That’s an advantage for us,” he said.
But, if doing comedy well is more difficult than expected, doing comedy with poignancy can be even more difficult.
“It’s a challenge for my actors, who are used to doing comedy,” Schnell said.
He has cast Jeff Goihl as Scottie, with Nick Rudlong as the son. Also in the cast are Sue Schnell, Cheryl Frarck, Dave Derby, Amy Gorsch and Brittany Freeman.
The play reflects, Schnell said, the way life is a series of ups and downs, of laughs and tears. “A tweener, I’d call it,” he said.