Story by ELLEN BECKER, Managing Editor—
Theatregoers filtered into Hendricks Hall Tuesday night as the UCM Performing Arts Series brought veteran Hollywood actor and playwright John Amos to perform his acclaimed one-man show, “Halley’s Comet.”
There was a quiet rumble of conversations throughout the theater as patrons discussed their expectations for the show to come.
Jeff Imboden, director of the PAS, gave a brief introduction to the audience before the lights dimmed, and Amos took the stage.
The performance began with recognizable sound bites and music clips in a sort of timeline, telling the story of 20th Century America.
Then, the stage lights came on to reveal Amos sitting in a rocking chair, snoring. After waking up, he had a brief humorous conversation with his “wife” before moving across the stage to a scenery that consisted of a tree stump and fallen leaves to depict a forest clearing.
There were a few technical difficulties with the audio equipment, but that didn’t deter Amos from quipping, “It sure is echoey in the woods tonight,” which met with audience laughter.
The play focused on the story of John Henry Halley and his family.
From the turn of the century, through the dawn of the computer era, Amos told tales of joy, love, births and deaths, wars, and loss, all through the eyes of a detailed and dramatic storyteller.
In the play, Halley comes to the same spot his dad brought him to see Halley’s Comet when he was 11 years old. Seventy-six years later, he sees the comet for the second time.
He sat on the tree stump and talked to “Mr. Comet,” telling it of his three marriages, the loss of his first two wives, of his 14 children, and other life tales.
He told stories of war, and how one of his sons was killed in action, and of his grandfather and slavery.
He told his old friend, “things have changed since the last time you passed this way.”
Throughout Halley’s stories, there were subtle educational points, like how life has changed, and how we as humans have slipped and gotten too far from “the Spirit.”
Amos also mentioned how even today, we’re still “playing the same ‘ol ‘ism’ games, with racism, sexism, etc., and how TV is a big problem between men and women today.
Near the end of the play, Amos’s character came to the conclusion that, “maybe (the comet) doesn’t come for us to see it, but to come look in at us.”
He went on to tell the comet that “when you get back to your head master, Mr. Comet, tell Him all His sheep down here ain’t completely lost,” and “tell mama and daddy and my brothers and sisters I’ll be along directly. It’s good to see you again Mr. Comet.”
He ended the performance by peering out into the audience as he quipped, “You folks been sittin’ there all this time? I was taught it’s rude to sit in on another’s conversation.”
The audience laughed, and Amos continued, “I hope next time (the comet) comes through, you all got it right.”
After he left the stage, he returned for a bow. As applause faded, Amos took off his hat and said, “A special thanks to all those with loved ones serving, foreign or domestic. God Bless, amen.”
The ABC Gospel Choir performed both at intermission and at the end of the performance.
Amos received an Emmy nomination for his performance in the television mini-series, “Roots,” and has portrayed a variety of main characters in programs such as “Good Times,” “The West Wing,” “All About the Andersons,” “Men in Trees,” “Touched by an Angel,” “The District” and “My Name is Earl.”
He is in his 19th season of a world tour for “Halley’s Comet,” and said he prefers being on stage instead of on camera. “I love the immediate feedback and interaction with the audience,” he said.
He said the idea for “Halley’s Comet” came to him in 1986. “I overheard an older gentleman, he was probably about 95, sharing with his family what it was like to see (the comet) for the first time,” he said. “I immediately went home and started writing, and like they say, the rest is history.”
Amos said his most memorable moment on stage was the first time he ever got a standing ovation. “There have easily been a thousand since,” he added. “It’s been a wonderful ride.”