It’s Okay to Laugh!

by Jillian Carter

I’d heard about Bruce Hahn before I saw his star turn as George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie last night. He’s a bit of a local theatre legend, especially at Community Players in Beatrice. However, I still can’t tell you anything about the man, because I only saw George Burns onstage. As can only be accomplished by a truly talented performer, Hahn completely inhabits his role, but not by doing an impersonation. He doesn’t try to do Burns’s voice or wear facial prosthetics; it is all in his gestures, his comedic timing, and the spirit in which he delivers this two-hour-long one-man show. Of course, the trademark glasses don’t hurt.

While no one but Hahn is ever on the stage, it clearly took a team to create a production that keeps the audience engaged the entire time. Frankly, Rupert Holmes’s script leaves a bit to be desired. It reads more like a traditional memoir than a lively show, but the Community Players team evidently took that as a challenge rather than an obstacle. Using the script as the foundation, they add impressive staging, lights, and projections, which take Hahn’s performance to the next level. Kudos to the entire production staff, led by the marvelous director and designer, Jamie Ulmer. The unsung hero of the show may actually be the spotlight operator, Paige Patton.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of George Burns or barely know who he is, this show will get you. From growing up in a New York City tenement to middling vaudeville success and finally pioneering “illogical logic” in comedy, the audience is treated to a crash course in comedy history and his personal life. It seems like Burns knew just about everyone, and has something to say about each of them.

However, as much as I love celebrity gossip, that’s not what makes this show shine. It’s the balance of humor and sentimentality that keeps you hooked. Somehow, Hahn gives the audience permission to laugh out loud within seconds of telling heartbreaking tales, like the death of his mother. (No spoiler! The man lived to be 100 years old; you can’t expect his mom to outlive him!) I don’t know about you, but these days I will take any opportunity to laugh. Thank you for the opportunity, George!

Say Goodnight, Gracie is ostensibly the life story of George Burns, but it’s also a love letter to his wife, Gracie Allen. Though this is a one-person show, Gracie is almost physically present on the stage, from the moment Burns meets her to his very last lines. Truth be told, I was a bit put off when I realized they started dating while she was a teenager and he a grown thirty-year-old, but they won me over in the end. He clearly loved her, and she him. Bring your tissues for the end of their tale!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the safety precautions for this show. Masks are enforced, as is social distancing. There are adorable cardboard cutouts to enforce space between groups, and to keep you company if you’re flying solo. I recommend Shrek; he’s a good date. There is increased cleaning and disinfecting, as well as temperature checks and available hand sanitizer. Community Players also upgraded their HVAC system at the beginning of the pandemic, so they now have air scrubbers in the lobby, performance area, and green room. Everyone needs to do what they feel comfortable with, but I feel comfortable stating that Community Players has done everything they can to keep their community safe.

If you go: Say Goodnight, Gracie runs through this weekend, January 8 and 9 at 7:30pm and January 10 at 2:00pm, at the Community Players Theatre (412 Ella Street, Beatrice). Tickets are available online, by phone (402) 228-1801, and at the Community Players box office.

Jillian Carter is a local playwright, director, and performer. She also works as a roleplay consultant for the UNL Center on Children, Families, and the Law. Most importantly, she is the mother of four rock stars and the wife of another.

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