Actor Patrick Tovatt, who directed or appeared in more than forty plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the company’s early days, has come out of retirement to appear in a new production of Sam Shepard’s “Ages of the Moon” at Louisville’s Bunbury Theatre.
Tovatt is probably best known for his roles on long-running soap operas – he was nominated for a daytime Emmy for his performance as Cal Stricklyn on CBS’ “As the World Turns,” a role he played for more than ten years. But the last role the former Russellville farmer took on before retiring to Oregon in 2002 was on Broadway, as mathematician Robert in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Proof.”
Now he’s back on stage in Louisville, a city with which he enjoys a long history, dating back to when Actors Theatre still produced plays in the old Illinois Central Railroad Station on Seventh Street. Tovatt directed Patrick Hamilton’s “Angel Street” in 1971.
“Jon Jory literally lured me out of my farm,” says Tovatt. “I had run away from Hollywood, and he had me come up to direct a play. Steve Woodring had just been hired at ATL, so we became friends.”
Tovatt never joined the company full-time, but he appeared on stage and or directed shows in 14 seasons. After retiring to Oregon, where his son attends university, he thought he was mostly finished with traveling for work. But his old friend Woodring, now returning to his roots as a director with Bunbury after a long career on the technical side of the Kentucky Center, approached him to star as Ames, one-half of the cast of “Ages of the Moon,” with an offer he couldn’t refuse – a handmade, custom-designed split cane fly rod.
“He’s a fly fisherman and so am I. He’s spent his whole career in the theater and so have I. So we have lots in common,” says Tovatt. “Two old fishing buddies! That’s sort of what this [play] is about.”
But really, Tovatt insists it took more than a cool fly rod to bring him back to the stage.
“It was an opportunity to experience Steve as a director, and he’s very good. It was an opportunity to do a relatively obscure Shepard play, and I love Sam Shepard, and it was an opportunity to do it in Louisville,” he says.
“Ages of the Moon,” which Shepard wrote for Irish actors Stephen Rea and Sean McGinley, who originated the roles for Dublin’s The Abbey Theatre in 2009, takes place over one evening in rural Kentucky (Shepard lives in Midway). On the front porch of his isolated cabin retreat, Ames (Tovatt), whose wife has kicked him out as punishment for possible marital transgressions, has summoned his old friend Byron (played by Matt Orme) to keep him company as he watches for a lunar eclipse. The two men drink bourbon (Woodford Reserve, to be exact) and try to unravel the mysteries of their lost youth and later lives. It’s almost a bookend to Shepard’s “True West,” Shepard’s acclaimed dark comedy about two antagonistic, polar opposite brothers who stand in for warring sides of one man’s psyche.
“This is the gentlest of all the Sam Shepard plays,” says Tovatt. “It is the most connected. The two people in this play actually begin to express this kind of connection which is missing in many of his other plays. Some of the subject matter of his other plays is the inability of people to actually make connection.”
“Ages of the Moon” opens Friday and runs through February 23 at the Henry Clay Theatre (604 S. 3rd St.).