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Saint Francis Stage Company plays to its strengths in 'God's Favorite'

January 13, 2014|By Joyce Rudolph

When Daniel Roebuck was cast in a Glendale holiday production, it set off a chain reaction of changes for a Burbank theater company.

Roebuck had committed to playing Scrooge at Glendale Centre Theatre, so he had to find another director for the Saint Francis Stage Company's annual play, which he has co-directed since its inception seven years ago. But things have fallen into place and the show will go on, continuing at the company through Jan. 18.

When the Stage Company was selecting the script, Jim Roope suggested Neil Simon's "God's Favorite," a comedy based on the biblical Book of Job in which a man refuses the devil's temptation to renounce God, even after he loses all material things.

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"He never figured that I'd say 'Good! OK. You star in it!'" Roebuck said. "I think Jim thought I'd be playing the lead, but he is perfect for it."

It is the first time Roope will star in the Burbank production. And the change-up gave Roebuck time to complete the run in Glendale.

Next, they needed a director. Several people suggested Burbank resident George Strattan, but he hadn't directed anything for a couple years. Eventually he was contacted and said yes.

"They brought me out of retirement," Strattan quipped.

A veteran actor of stage and TV, Strattan acted in or directed plays at the Burbank Little Theater during the 1960s and he co-owned the Golden Mall Playhouse with Pam and Walt Gilmore from 1973 to 1980. He has also directed more than 75 shows at Glendale Centre Theatre.

"I'm still getting my little residual checks for 1960s shows like 'The Waltons' and 'The Monkees,' but I much prefer live theater," he said. "That one-on-one with the audience is so exciting."

The last play Strattan directed was "Once Upon a Mattress" at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont a couple years ago, he said. This is the first time he is directing "God's Favorite."

In past shows, Roebuck has played more of the straight man opposite Roope's zany characters. In this production, it's Roebuck's turn to be "wacky," Stattan said.

"Sidney Lipton is a very different role for Dan. He's going to be hysterically funny," he said. "He's a crazy, wacky character, totally out there. Charles Nelson Reilly played the role on Broadway in 1974, and always played wacky characters."

But as far over-the-top as Roebuck can be, he still makes it real, Strattan added. "That is important because I don't think it's funny if they aren't real."

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