Joseph Frank Keaton earned his nickname “Buster” from hard hits he took being thrown around the stage like a prop during his family’s vaudeville act. Hiding his emotional pain behind a stoic stoneface, Keaton became Hollywood’s first action star as he developed the language of physical comedy through the use of fantastic stunts.
Recreating some of Buster’s classic sight gags live on stage at The Pasadena Playhouse in June, Stoneface employs the medium of silent film to capture the legendary bygone era of the twenties and chronicle the redemptive tale of one of Hollywood’s greatest performers.
Stoneface explores Buster’s attempts to resurrect his life and career after falling from Hollywood’s heights. Not only did Buster’s career implode, but his marriage also disintegrated around him. Director Jaime Robledo notes Keaton’s story is universal, revealing how one picks up the pieces after struggles and failures and gets on track again, chasing one’s own dreams. Actress Daisy Eagan describes the story as Buster’s struggle to be authentically himself.
As Robledo explains, the production recreates great action gags like Buster surviving a house falling around him to viscerally demonstrate the risks Keaton took in performing his own stunts and to reveal the physicality of slapstick comedy.
Multi-talented French Stewart plays Buster, using his physical agility and comic skill to reveal the emotional heart of Keaton. Best known for his work on Third Rock From the Sun, Mom, and Community, Stewart also possesses 30 years of theatrical experience essaying roles in Justin Tanner’s Cast Theatre and with Sacred Fools’ Theater Company. Stewart brings his love of Buster and his own gravitas to embody the sensitive comic genius. His split-second timing and rhythm channel Buster’s creative energy and spark.
Tony-Award winning actress Eagan plays Mae Scriven, describing her as “part of his journey downward, showing how far he’s fallen.” Eagan had seen few of Keaton’s films before taking the role, but quickly grew to admire him. She notes how timeless and hilarious his comedy remains today, while his blank face acts as a mirror to our own emotions.
Robledo calls The Pasadena Playhouse, “The perfect place to perform the show because of its intimacy and great history,” giving the production a larger canvas on which to work. In fact, The Playhouse was built in 1925, the same year Buster shot scenes of his film, Go West, in Pasadena.
While fellow comedy greats Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd might be more familiar to contemporary audiences, Buster Keaton’s redemptive tale of destruction and resurrection resonates more closely with most people.
Stoneface captures the giddy spirit of the times while it also reveals the emotional truth of resilient comic legend, Buster Keaton.
Stoneface plays Tuesdays-Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm from June 3 through June 29 at The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena. Preview tickets June 3 through June 7 cost $34-$54 plus premium, and tickets June 8 through June 29 cost $54-$74 plus premium. They can be purchased by visiting www.pasadenaplayhouse.org, or by calling (626) 356-7529.