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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the June 30, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Family Tradition: The Show Goes On

And one man in his time plays many parts,” wrote Shakespeare in “As You Like It.” So it may be said of Doug Kline. Although not in the sense that Shakespeare meant. The bard was talking of one man’s journey from infancy to extreme old age. Kline has played many parts — make that “roles” — mainly in Off-Broadstreet Theater productions. A listing of the plays he’s starred in at OBT alone takes up five lines of small print in a recent program.

If you’ve been to this Hopewell dessert theater recently, you’ve seen this character actor. He’s played the leads in so many plays. He was Peter Ravenswall in “Wrong Turn at Lungfish,” John Smith in “Caught in the Net,” Dr. Leonard Cook in “Dr. Cook’s Garden,” and Cooper in “A Month of Sundays,” when, most memorably, he played opposite an intense Robert Thick. Middle aged himself — he’s now 55 — Kline usually plays middle aged men, although he’s played elderly men in “Sundays” and in “Lungfish,” where he was in a hospital bed, blind, and dying.

Only once did he play a romantic lead at OBT, but he has taken on many leading roles in comedies and dramas. He takes on supporting roles, too, including the father, John Ruskin Sr., in “The Countess,” a drama about the Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his wife, Effie.

Kline has been acting in productions for Off-Broadstreet Theater for 10 years. He began acting with the Thicks just after they marked their 10th anniversary. The couple called him to audition for their upcoming play, “Lend me a Tenor.” He got the part, but no, he didn’t sing. It was a farce and a lot of work, he says. “I wasn’t sure, after I finished that, that I wanted to come back here again,” he says. “But I had a great time in it.”

His second show at Off-Broadstreet was a musical, “She Loves Me.” He had one song in it and, he says, “got through it.” He’d never been trained as a singer, although he’d been vocally trained. Kline figures he has done about 20 shows with the Thicks at OBT.

How is it working with the Thicks? “It’s almost exactly like working in professional theater,” says Kline, who was a professional actor for seven years and who has an Equity card, although he’s resigned from the union. At OBT, Kline says, rehearsals start on time. Everyone must arrive at 7, rehearsals start at 7:01 — “and when Bob says ‘We leave at 10,’ you’re out of here at 9:59. You get a lot accomplished. Bob can block a show in two rehearsals.

“The Thicks run a semi-professional theater,” says Kline. “Theirs is not a community theater.” In his opinion, the latter tends to be more lax. The Thicks have a for-profit theater. “It’s their livelihood,” says Kline.

“The reason I come back here — a lot — is that Bob and Julie constantly find things that challenge me,” he says. “Every time I come in here, I can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, like I did in the last show. I’ve got to create a whole new character.” Most recently — for “Lungfish” — he had to learn how to be blind.

The sole romantic lead he’s ever had was at OBT, in “The Sisters Rosensweig.”

“Bob wasn’t going to cast me in it,” says Kline, “but he knew I liked to be challenged, and thought ‘Let’s see if he can handle this.’”

The most difficult shows for blocking, generally speaking, are farces, says Kline. There is constant movement throughout the play — back and forth across the stage, in and out, in and out: nobody stands still. The key is to have somebody coming in a door while somebody is going out a door. “You’re almost forced to move on every line, while trying to remember your lines. They have to be so ingrained. You don’t have time to think.”

In the recent production of “Caught in the Net,” Kline figures that he lost 20 pounds by the time the show was over just from running from one side of the stage to the other. By contrast, in “Wrong Turn at Lungfish,” blocking for him was minimal. He stayed in bed nearly the whole time. “I kind of like that,” he says.

Kline began acting in high school and has been acting for 35 years. The first play he was in was “Pygmalion,” where he played the leading role of Professor Pickering. When he was in college he did an average of five shows a year. “I was an older-looking person, I played all the character roles. I got a lot of work.” Even in high school he didn’t play young men. He kept playing all the older parts, “but that’s because I was always large, and for some reason, big people play character parts.” He likes doing character roles. “There are so many dimensions.”

Kline was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1949. His father was a railway mail clerk, his mother a homemaker. He has four half-sisters and two half brothers, none in the theater.

Kline, who freely admits he was a “hood” in his youth, lost his father at 14 and had no direction. As a high school sophomore he was forced to usher for a high school production of “The Sound of Music.” Never having seen a play before, he thought it “was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.” He was hooked on the theater.

In his junior year he showed up for an audition, to the dismay of the director. He was cast as Horace Vander Gelder in “The Matchmaker,” and when the show didn’t go on because of a conflict with the movie opening, he ended up with the role of Professor Pickering in “Pygmalion.” In his senior year he did three more plays.

Straightened out by the theater, he graduated from a small Catholic college in Loras, Iowa, in 1971, earned a master’s degree in theater from St. Louis University a year later, and married.

He came east because his wife, Margee, got a job in New York City. The proud holder of an Actors Equity card, he set out to find work in the theater. He now lives in Newtown, Pennsylavnia, and teaches English at Trenton Central High School. He and his wife have one child, a grown son, Bryndon.

Kline came to the Thicks’ attention while he was working with a group called “Shakespeare 70.” Bob and Julie had seen him in a couple of shows and tried to call him, but had the wrong phone number. Finally, they sent a message to him through a mutual friend, asking him to audition. “I’d never set foot in this theater before,” Kline says. “I love to do plays. I’m not much of a play watcher.” He does about two shows a year at OBT and also acts elsewhere. (He’s played for the Boheme Opera Company, in “Die Fledermaus,” and for Westwind, and ActorsNET.)

Over the years, Kline and his wife have become close friends of the Thicks. The couples have dinner together, and have shared vacations. “Nothing’s formal with us anymore,” he says.

“The shows themselves are important but it’s Bob and Julie’s hospitality that makes the theater unique,” Kline says. “They’ve had actors stay at their house. If you’re part of the OBT family, they’ll give you the shirt off their backs. If you need something, you’ll get it. If an actor has forgotten black socks for his tuxedo, Julie will run home and get a pair of Bob’s.”

Kline praises Bob’s ability to pick the cast and Julie’s ability to pick shows suitable for their audience. Audiences may not be aware of these behind-the-scenes skills, but he says that they do appreciate the constancy of the pair’s presence. “When you come to the theater, you’ll find Bob behind the ticket window and Julie inside, the hostess,” he says. “You feel you’re in their home.”

After the shows on opening night the cast goes out to a restaurant around the corner to party and talk about the play. “We appreciate the discipline, but there’s fun to be had here, too,” Kline says.

Years ago, Kline’s wife had a heart attack on the day a play in which he was acting was to open. Kline spent all day with her in the hospital. Julie offered to cancel the play. Toward evening Margee told him to go do the play. Julie took the then-young Bryndon, sat him at a table, gave him a Coke and a pizza, and Bryndon watched his dad in “The Sum of Us.”

And the show went on.

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