BY PATRICIA DUFF
Whidbey Life Magazine
I’ve known Ed Cornachio for about six years. When we met, we almost immediately fell into a rapport based on our shared East Coast sensibility. We met through our mutual love of acting, and also I had written about Cornachio’s work as a photographer. But I was surprised when he told me his history with Mr. Green.
Recently, at OutCast’s resident home of the Black Box Theater at the fairgrounds, Cornachio and Dave Mayer were rehearsing, “Visiting Mr. Green,” the official opening play of the Outcast season. That’s when Ed told me he was learning the part again, having almost played Mr. Green 11 years ago when he was just a spring chicken in his 70s.
Back then, he had landed the part in a professional theater called the Spokane Interplayers in Spokane, Wash., while living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Everything was going well. The retired Cornachio had discovered his affinity for acting late in life and “Mr. Green” was a part tailor-made for an older gent with a feisty New Yorker quality.
The theater held a big party, he said, before opening the play. Everyone was there, the staff, crew, family; congratulatory and enjoying the excitement and anticipation of what was going to be a great two-person show. The part of Mr. Green is juicy. He’s an 86-year-old widower, who is almost hit by a car driven by young corporate executive Ross Gardiner, played here by Mayer. Found guilty of reckless driving, Ross is ordered to spend the following six months making weekly visits to the cranky Mr. Green. What begins as a comedic situation of two guys who resent being in the same room together, gracefully develops into something else, which you’ll have to go see the play to find out what.
But it was the perfect part for Cornachio, a native New Yorker, who understands the old New York Jewish character well and could, if truth be told, play the guy in his sleep. Every actor feels a certain level of confidence with a part that is right and Cornachio was feeling it with Mr. Green.
Shortly after arriving home from the party, Ed had a heart attack. It was two days before opening night.
“I drove myself to the hospital in Coeur d’Alene,” Cornachio said. “They immediately put me on a helicopter and flew me to a hospital in Spokane.”
Ed was in the operating room the next day, where they implanted two stents in his heart.
“I quit smoking that very day,” he said.
Cornachio said he has had no problems with his heart since then and getting another crack at Mr. Green, makes the whole experience even more satisfying for the actor.
“Finally, I get closure with this production,” Cornachio said.
Indeed, it’s not every day an actor gets to try it again; especially with a character you have a “love/hate” relationship with, as Ed said of Green.
Director Sandy O’Brien has found the connections between this play and “Everyman’s” experiences with aging.
“One of the aspects of this story that I wanted to focus on was how aging separates you from the rest of the world,” she said.
“All of your mistakes come home to roost, while the world seems to have entered a sort of quiet dementia about your existence. That is, until an event happens to make someone pay attention to you,” she said.
As for Mayer, he says his character, Ross, is a super normal guy who can’t control the situation he’s been thrust into. Funny how that can happen no matter how old you are.
“His struggles against society, Mr. Green and himself are indicative of the battles we all wage to find our self-worth,” Mayer said. “A man who desperately seeks control of his affairs is placed in a situation that seems to make this impossible.”
O’Brien said the play illustrates the fact that we’re all more alike than we know in the end and the truth being told out loud is a valuable thing. For her, it’s a kind of reminder that a life lesson may come from the oddest circumstance, which sounds like art imitating life in a way when you consider what happened to Cornachio, the actor who learned to stay healthy in order to take Mr. Green by the horns again 11 years later.
“Visiting Mr. Green” is written by Jeff Baron and plays at the Black Box Theater at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in Langley. The play opens Friday, Feb. 1 and runs for three weekends through Saturday, Feb. 16. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. and two Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $12 for students and seniors and $16 for adults and can be reserved through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and paid for at the door by cash or check; or buy tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets.
(Pictured at top, Ed Cornachio plays the Jewish New Yorker, Mr. Green.)
Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist whose most recent kudos includes several wins in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association competition for the past five years.
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