In Memory of Lew Tatham, A Gentleman of the Theatre

by RoxyRegionalTheatre on February 10, 2012

Lew Tatham passed and, in doing so, completed the fatal trio which I had rather hoped would not come to fruition. My best friend Skip Wachsberger left this veil of tears in November. Then Tom Brumbaugh, my neighbor, friend, noted Vanderbilt professor, art historian and Olen Bryant’s longtime companion, made two dearly departed in as many months.

Lew made this theatre a better place. He was the first APSU professor to join our ranks, and his involvement lent credence and solidified our importance in the community.

I was one of many admirers. I first met him while rehearsing for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, which was being directed by Sally Welch and performed at Trinity Episcopal Church. He was from Maine and I, having worked summers there, could copy his cadence and did so for his amusement on many occasions.

Lew had in his unwritten contract an iron-clad clause that, once his character died in one of our Shakespearean productions — Caesar, Banquo, Duncan, Polonius — he need not stay for curtain call. I can still hear the light patter of his slippered feet as he exited by the stage door to return to classes at APSU.

He was Lear, and his daughters were played by Evy Gildrie-Voyles, Sandra Winters and Leslie Greene. It was cast with my favorite people, with Lew playing a great part in a great play and playing it superbly.

Lew was not an actor as such — he had not the ego it requires. I would explain in great detail my understanding of the inner workings and the esthetic rigmarole of a character. His response was always the same: “I should slow it down?” “Yes, Lew, slow it down.” He distilled my direction to its simplest form.

Once he retired to Florida, his appearances on stage here were less frequent. His last was as Clarence Darrow in Inherit the Wind. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I knew it, but Lew was very low-key about it. I placed tables, court rails and benches as a stop gap from place to place. It worked, and no one was the wiser.

I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone, which (in his presence) I often did. He would nod, not in agreement, but to acknowledge what I had said. He was a good man. And with Lew, you got Gerry, his writer wife. She acted, made costumes and, like Lew, was always an asset to this theatre.

Lew was a gentleman of the theatre. I long to be remembered as such. A memorial is set for tomorrow at 10am at his church, Trinity Episcopal. We will celebrate a life well-led and mourn his loss along with his family and friends.

This Saturday holds one final performance of Happily Ever After at 2pm. At 6:30pm comes a Valentine’s soiree of martinis with a blend of gourmet comestible and sweet delights, followed by an 8pm performance of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

See you at the theatre!

[John McDonald]

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