Actor Stutts enjoys being a Coward

Act­ing wasn’t Will Stutts’ first ca­reer choice.

Born in Alabama and en­rolled at the Uni­versity of Alabama in pre-med, he had his eye on be­com­ing a pe­di­at­ri­cian — un­til the day he tried out for a play and ended up with a role.

“At first I didn’t get the role, so to me, that was as if fate had made its de­cision. But then the fel­low play­ing the role I au­di­tioned for lit­er­ally broke his leg so they called me in to do the show. And I guess that was it. I was hooked,” said Stutts, who is ap­pear­ing as Noel Cow­ard in Noel and Ger­tie at the Wal­nut Street Theatre’s In­de­pend­ence Stu­dio on 3 through Dec. 31.

Stutts, who is well-known for his many one-man shows and also dir­ects this pro­duc­tion, is no stranger to the theat­er or Noel Cow­ard.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing Cow­ard on TV when I was a child, some­time back in the fifties,” Stutts said. “He had a sort of at­ti­tude I will nev­er for­get, and, to me, he seemed to ex­em­pli­fy the quint­es­sen­tial Eng­lish­man. Then, back in the 1980s, I did my own one-man cab­aret act of Cow­ard, go­ing through a whole pro­cess of listen­ing and watch­ing everything I could get my hands on, so he was already some­body I was very fa­mil­i­ar with.”

And here he is today, once again play­ing Cow­ard, the tal­en­ted act­or, play­wright and com­poser who en­ter­tained audi­ences with Private Lives and Blithe Spir­it, op­pos­ite Susan Wilder, a tal­en­ted per­former in her own right, as Ger­trude Lawrence, the cel­eb­rated act­ress who tri­umphed in such plays as Lady In the Dark and The King and I.

The play was de­veloped from the in­tim­ate stor­ies shared in the bio­graph­ies of Cow­ard and Lawrence, and fea­tures Cow­ard’s pop­u­lar songs and ex­cerpts from his plays and sev­er­al per­son­al journ­als. The show also high­lights the mis­chief and friend­ship Cow­ard and Lawrence shared, and fea­tures such pop­u­lar songs as Someday I’ll Find You, Mrs. Wor­thing­ton and Mad Dogs and Eng­lish­men.

Stutts, 62, has worked in pro­fes­sion­al theat­er for more than four dec­ades. After at­tend­ing Yale Uni­versity on a schol­ar­ship, he ap­peared in a half-dozen Broad­way pro­duc­tions where he shared the stage with such lu­minar­ies as Ag­nes More­head, Colleen Dewhurst, Eva Mar­ie Saint, George C. Scott, and many oth­ers. He also ap­peared in a score of off-Broad­way pro­duc­tions in New York. 

He later spent three years in Los Angeles with the L.A. Shakespeare Com­pany. He’s also served as artist­ic dir­ect­or at the Mt. Gret­na Play­house and the Uni­versity of Alabama pro­fes­sion­al sum­mer theat­er, and lived and worked in Phil­adelphia for many years be­fore mov­ing to Flor­ida sev­er­al years ago.

The act­or’s Wal­nut Street world premiere pro­duc­tions in­clude Bar­ry­more, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eye of the Storm, and his highly en­ter­tain­ing Will Stutts’ Tal­lu­lah, among oth­ers.

Per­haps best known for be­ing the fore­most prac­ti­tion­er of the genre of the “one-per­son play,” Stutts ex­plained that be­ing alone on­stage or play­ing op­pos­ite oth­ers both have their ad­vant­ages.

“I think I prob­ably ap­pre­ci­ate do­ing a tra­di­tion­al play a lot more than most act­ors be­cause it’s of­ten ter­rif­ic to have people out there with you on­stage and not be so alone,” Stutts said. “But I’ve also learned to ap­pre­ci­ate and re­spect the autonomy that comes with the one-per­son play. In this busi­ness, I’ve al­ways thought that when you get more than two people to­geth­er you can’t get any­thing done. And many times, I do see that ex­act thing hap­pen­ing.”

When Noel and Ger­tie closes, Stutts will be off to his ad­op­ted state of Flor­ida to do his one-man show on Walt Whit­man. After that, he offered, there are some shows he might still like to do.

Said the per­former: “We’ll see. What I’ve come to real­ize is that the things that mat­ter in life are good friends, fam­ily and the abil­ity to have happy people around you. These days, that’s what is really im­port­ant to me.” ••

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