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Ed Dixon faces the terrible legacy of a real-life friend
How do you create a show about one of the wittiest and most beloved character actors in Broadway history –about a friend and inspiration – who also had a terrible secret life that ended in a lurid killing?
That was the challenge actor-writer Ed Dixon faced when he wrote about George Rose, a two-time Tony Award-winner who was murdered in 1988.
Dixon had written about Rose in his 2012 memoir Secrets of a Life On Stage...And Off, but it wasn't until the book was published that a friend suggested Dixon's relationship with the actor would make a compelling piece of theatre.
"When he said that, it was like a gong going off," he recalls. He immediately began writing, and nine days later he had a draft of Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose, his solo show that is playing through April 15 at The Loft at The Davenport Theatre.
"It was so painful losing a friend so violently that I couldn't deal with it at first," Dixon recalls. "And then there was the sordidness."
Rose was fatally beaten in the Dominican Republic by his 18-year-old adopted son and three other men, who attempted to make the murder look like a car accident.
Dixon visited Rose on the Caribbean island shortly before the murder, and he was horrified to discover Rose's penchant for young boys and his visits to a house of child prostitution. Dixon said he immediately returned home to New York, shaken to his core. Before he left, however, he witnessed a harrowing incident that could have been a precursor to Rose's eventual murder.
"I didn't know if it was possible to tell it," he says. "The idea of making sense of it all has been a project that has taken me three decades."
What changed for Dixon, 68 – the same age as Rose when he died – was realizing he could tell Rose's story by telling his own.
The show, which is directed by Eric Schaeffer, is structured in three sections. As Dixon explains, "[There's] how I met George, then talking about all the shows I saw him in [including Tony-winning turns in My Fair Lady and The Mystery of Edwin Drood], and finally the section set in the Dominican Republic."
Dixon notes that most people don't remember the murder, and a large part of his audience may not even remember Rose or his contemporaries. "I don't expect a lot of people – especially 20-year-olds – to remember Edith Evans or even Laurence Olivier. Perhaps they know Katharine Hepburn. But I feel these characters are so larger-than-life that you don't even need to know them."
But while he has revisited these stories many times, Dixon never returned to the Dominican Republic until he was preparing his show last year at Virginia's Signature Theatre. Then he felt compelled to go back.
"I was very frightened at first, but it was an extraordinary experience," he says. "But I did not go to where George lived, which was truly in the jungle. I am told that it is now completely built up with giant hotels on the water."
Ultimately, however, Dixon wants this production to leave audiences with more than the scandal. "The overarching idea [of the show] is sometimes you can idolize someone, or love someone, and then find out something terrible about that person," he says. "But all that love doesn't just evaporate. It still lives forever in your memory and your heart. Also, you can never understand another person, even if you've known them all your life. Can you ever know the secret life of another person?"
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for 'Georgie.' Go here to browse our current offers.
Photos by Carol Rosegg. Top photo: Ed Dixon in 'Georgie.'