John Astin, haunted by his famously macabre characterizations Gomez Addams and Edgar Allan Poe. The actor visits the area this week for a pair of special appearances. (Recent photo by David Colwell)
By TOM CHESEK
Who wouldn’t want to be Gomez Addams? Always looking your best, never bored, never having to work. Living a life centered around romance and hobbies in a houseful of strange creatures, explosives and drawers full of cash.
As personified by John Astin in the classic 1960s sitcom The Addams Family, Gomez was a virile lover of both life and death unflappable, full of savoir faire (Tish! You spoke French!), and a far different character than the sketchy, nameless little figure who appeared in the panel cartoons by Charles Addams. His performance was in fact the template for all Addams projects to follow and it takes its rightful place in the canon of crazies from the never-duplicated universe of 1960s TV. It’s ight up there with Barney Fife, Granny Clampett, Batman, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
With the old black-and-white episodes forever in reruns, Astin has lived the blessed/cursed existence of the actor who’s eternally pegged to a single gig, prosecuting a career that’s swung wildly from serious theater to such camp/cult touchstones as the Killer Tomatoes movies and his recurring role as Harry Anderson’s dotty dad on Night Court. There was also a 12-year marriage to fellow ’60s sitcom icon Patty Duke (Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings is his adopted son) and, beginning in the ’90s, a new career as a respected member of academia.
As director for the program in theatre arts and studies at Johns Hopkins University, Astin is largely responsible for a resurgence in the school’s performing arts. He’s further distinguished himself as a lecturer on literature, with a particular specialty in the life and works of one Edgar Allan Poe. He’s written a highly regarded essay on Poe’s little-known (but positively mindblowing) piece Eureka, and he’s toured the continent as the master of the macabre himself, with the one-man show Once Upon a Midnight a presentation he’s brought to Monmouth University and to Holmdel in recent years.
Astin returns to the Holmdel Theatre Company‘s charming, comfortable and criminally underutilized Duncan Smith Playhouse just minutes from Red Bank on Crawfords Corner Road, adjacent to Holmdel High School for two very special personal appearances this weekend. Entitled An Evening with John Astin, it’s a program of “readings, storytelling, anecdotes and reflections on acting” that’s been custom-designed specifically for this occasion: as a benefit for the Holmdel troupe and its education and community programs.
The oRBit desk at redbankgreen caught up with the dynamic 78-year-old a few nights back for a lengthy discussion that touched upon topics ranging from presidential politics and the Stanislavsky Method to the art of slapstick and the proper way to jump off a horse.