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Steve Tommey (left) is Doc and Ed Burguiere is Mr. Roberts in Theater Tulsa's production of "Mister Roberts."

Someone to lean on
By KAREN SHADE World Scene Writer

Steve Tommey takes on role in Theatre Tulsa's 'Mister Roberts'

It took a while to get Steve Tommey back on stage, but as the wise, seen-it-all-before Doc in "Mister Roberts," he is enjoying his role -- essentially, the base for the rock upon which everyone else leans.

The "rock" is Doug Roberts, a mid-level officer of the U.S. Navy serving aboard a cargo ship afloat somewhere in the Pacific during the final days of World War II.

Reflective and eager to prove his worth on the battlefront, Roberts finds himself sailing the straits between the six-headed monster Scylla -- the boat's disgruntled crew -- and the devouring whirlpool Charybdis -- the ship's tyrannical captain, who makes life miserable.

"Doug Roberts is the soul of the play," Tommey said. "I see the Doc as the father figure. Whereas the men lean upon Mr. Roberts, Mr. Roberts leans on the Doc. The Doc is his confessor ... If Mr. Roberts has kept the crew going through all of this, then the Doc has kept Mr. Roberts going."

"Mister Roberts" had a successful Broadway run between 1948 and 1951. Written by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan, it picked up the Tony Award for best play in 1948. Henry Fonda played the title character and reprised the role when the play was made into a movie in 1955. James Cagney played the Captain, William Powell played the Doc, and the film also starred Jack Lemmon.

Tommey said the movie is his son's favorite, and that became his motivation to resume a 30-year stage stint that might have ended four years ago after the 2001 run of Theatre Tulsa's Christmas musical "Miracle on 34th Street." Judge Harper was his last role.

"I stopped doing plays mainly because I'd been doing four to five plays for several years. I was burned out, and I wanted to spend time with my family, particularly with my son," he said.

Tommey admits that "Mister Roberts," as funny as it is, is an unlikely favorite movie choice for a teen, but he said he thinks he understands why the story speaks to him.

"He just laughs. There's a lot of visual gags in the movie and in the play. 'Mister Roberts' is a very basic show. It's a very short play, it's a short movie, and it brings some things down to their very essence. As Mr. Roberts says in one of his speeches, there is a boredom and a tedium that they (the crew) have to deal with every day, and there's a courage that comes out of dealing with that," he said.

Over the years, Tommey has been in a number of productions with various local theater groups. "Inherit The Wind," "Fortinbras," "Death of a Salesman," "Hamlet," "Six Degrees of Separation" and "The Sound of Music" are just a few titles on his theater resume. Such longevity has its rewards.

"Fortunately, after doing it for 30-something years, you get to kind of pick and choose what you want to be in, and so you do something for either the director that you're working for or because of the material or because your son likes the movie," he said laughing.

But Tommey likes the story, too, and its lesson nicely bundled in comedy.

"If you think about it, the crew -- they suffer every day ... and the play is about how they deal with that and how Mr. Roberts helps them deal with that, how they get through it," he said.

And when Roberts needs help, Doc will be there for him.

"Oh! I've been typecast haven't I," he said, laughing again.

The cast includes Ed Burguiere as Mister Roberts, Don Miller as the Captain, Christopher Bowles, Ed Dill, Casey Fanning, Daniel Fugatt, Todd Hanlin, Bill Kaiser, Sarah Spence and Lee Studerus.

"Mister Roberts"

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 8 p.m. Thursday-June 3

Where: John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Second Street and Cincinnati Avenue

Copyright 2006, World Publishing Co. All rights reserved.