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‘Just Men’ takes comic approach to serious issue

By Daily Bruin Staff

March 3, 1996 9:00 pm

‘Just Men’ takes comic approach to serious issue

Gary Goldstein production challenges actor to trace character’s
bigoted attitude

By Jennifer Richmond

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Playing an overbearing character is nothing new to Robert
Mandan.

Some of his best known roles, including Chester Tate from the
sitcom, "Soap," and the father in "Three’s a Crowd," have had the
same trait. Portraying Jack McAllister, the bigoted father in the
new play, "Just Men," is old hat.

But Mandan says there is a difference.

"I always saw Chester as very sad," Mandan says over coffee at
Hollywood’s Stella Adler Theatre. "I don’t see Jack as sad, I just
see him as tough and unconscious. Chester I always thought was
very, very sad because he was born into money; he didn’t really
know how to behave outside of that social strata and he was very
spoiled. He married a woman who was wealthy, and so he was capable
of maintaining his own lifestyle and not capable of making
commitments.

"Jack, on the other hand, really does try to make commitments. I
think he really did love the boy’s mother, but they were ships that
passed in the night. As he says, they never agreed on anything. And
his second wife is a pretty superficial relationship."

That’s what Mandan likes about these characters – their hidden
secrets. He says he always tries to examine why his characters are
the way they are. He likes to approach them from their darker side
because that’s where the comedy comes from.

Playwright Gary Goldstein agrees with him. He believes this is a
more biting comedy, which is why he so enjoyed writing it.

"There’s a little bit of esotericness to some of the humor that
takes people that extra beat to get and when they get it there’s an
extra laugh just because they realize what it really means," the
writer says. "But I think there’s a certain darkness to the play, a
real edginess which is what I think sets it apart from a lot of
shows that might be considered sitcomy."

Goldstein has been writing scripts for television and film for a
while, but this is his first stage play. Ironically, it took him
the least amount of time to write because he felt the topic needed
to be covered.

"I think the whole topic of bigotry is very important," the
playwright says. "I get so tired of people treating people like
they’re not human beings. It always bothers me. So, I wanted to do
something really fun, and I think comedy is a great way to make
serious topics accessible."

The bigotry Goldstein speaks of comes across loudly in the form
of father Jack McAllister, a character Mandan says is the way he is
because that’s how he was brought up.

"(Jack) says in the play that his own father was made of granite
and he obviously never got a great deal of compassion from him. So,
having been brought up that way, he really doesn’t know anything
else," Mandan says. "That’s who his parents were, that’s who all
the people he grew up with were, that’s who all his friends are
today and that’s just the way it is, as far as he’s concerned. So,
dealing with his son’s homosexuality is something he’s never had to
deal with in his life before."

But just because Mandan’s character learns that his son’s a
homosexual doesn’t mean he accepts it with open arms. The situation
and the character’s response to it present the actor with an issue
that adds depth and interest to his role.

"What I love about the character, is that he doesn’t make a full
commitment one way or the other. His evolution is beginning for
him, he’s just beginning to see the light," Mandan says. "And this
is a very difficult subject for a parent to deal with, particularly
someone like Jack."

But that wasn’t the reason the actor decided to take on the
role. He said he liked the comedy from the first moment he read it.
And when Goldstein optioned the play to Mandan, he immediately
agreed because "the audience reception was so good." The ensemble
worked so well together that it only took three months to produce
the comedy.

"This was an incredible experience for me. Having worked in TV
and film, the writer is not always considered as critical as they
are in the theater," Goldstein says with a laugh. "I happen to be a
big believer in the collaborative effort and I think the theater
allows you to do that, especially when you have the kind of cast we
had and the kind of director and the openness and the family
atmosphere that we’ve been able to create here."

Mandan really enjoyed that family aspect. "What’s really
gratifying is working with a group of people that are into the work
and that are joyously working with each other. As Gary mentioned,
this group has been so wonderful, right from the get-go."

"We’ve been really blessed with this production," Goldstein
adds. "Like Bob says, there’s a shining star over it and that makes
a difference because the days are grueling enough and the work is
tough enough that if you just get along it really makes a
difference."

"I have to love Gary," Mandan adds, "because Gary doesn’t have
the kind of ego that says ‘This is mine and you can’t change that.’
There was a very contributive atmosphere from the very beginning
and if an actor could present a line in a better way he’d go ‘Yeah,
that is better.’ Sometimes he’d go, ‘No, leave it the way it is.’
It was just easy."

Goldstein was receptive to the actors’ suggestions because he
says he believes the words aren’t always written as they would be
said.

"I really believe that just because you write words a certain
way doesn’t mean that that’s the way people really talk," Goldstein
says. "Maybe the way I talk is the way I think people talk, but
when you actually have to use your tongue and get your tongue
around these words, sometimes there’s a more efficient way of
saying it, especially for the stage, where you’ve gotta be able to
get it out."

"Somebody said life is easy, comedy is hard," Mandan adds, "and
that’s very accurate."

But thanks to Goldstein’s script, Mandan makes comedy look very
easy.

STAGE: "Just Men." Written by Gary Goldstein. Starring Robert
Mandan. Running through March 31 at the Stella Adler Theatre.
Performs Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. TIX:
$20. For more info call (213) 466-1767.

PATRICK LAM/Daily Bruin

Robert Mandan explains his understanding of his character, Jack
McAllister, in playwright Gary Goldstein’s new comedy, "Just
Men."

(Mandan) likes to approach (his characters) from their darker
side because that’s where the comedy comes from.

Comments to [email protected]

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