Luckinbill's solo tours keep history's great men alive

November 21, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

ACTOR LAURENCE Luckinbill thinks he has the best of all worlds with his one-man shows.

"But it is lonesome," he admits. "You look around and there isn't anybody to talk back. The worst part is when the stage manager says 'Place, please.' "

Luckinbill's latest solo production is "Clarence Darrow," in which he portrays the late maverick lawyer who is probably best known for his defense of the right of John T. Scopes to teach the theory of evolution to school children.

The show is scheduled for one performance only at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Medical School Teaching Facility at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

The seasoned actor toured the country for several years with a one-man show based on the life of Lyndon Johnson.

"Touring is a great way to live. I go out on the road and take the shows into New York when I feel like it," Luckinbill said in a phone conversation from Croton Falls, N.Y., where he was rehearsing.

Luckinbill said he plays no more than 30 or 50 dates a year. He takes his act to arts centers and universities from coast to coast.

"Home" is Westchester County in New York, where the actor lives with his wife, actress and singer Lucie Arnaz, and their three children, Simon, Joe and Kate.

The Darrow drama, written by David W. Rintels and directed by Richard Zavaglia, touches on the highlights of the career of the legal eagle who since his death in 1938 has become a kind of folk hero.

A passionate spokesman for labor and the rights of the average American, Darrow first soared to fame when he defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in their sensational murder trial, saving them from the death penalty.

"Capital punishment still is a hot issue today," Luckinbill said. "He was an enormous defender of the First Amendment . . . a radical, yet against abortion.

"He was not Jessie Helms. He hated politicians. He put himself into the common-sense mode: What is the most rational thing human beings could do in this situation? Does that fit with freedom? He would have been a great Supreme Court judge," Luckinbill said.

"He was not an angry guy. He was a fury of logic against politics and its corruption. Darrow was a kind of genius," he said. "So was Johnson. They are very intimidating people to take on."

"I try to do all the looking at what they said and thought . . . and then I do the work of finding out how they talked and walked . . . and try to filter it all through me."

Currently Luckinbill is working on a musical play he plans to open on Broadway with a big-name cast. The work dramatizes the life of his late father-in-law, Dezi Arnaz.

"Dezi was a 17-year-old immigrant with only one shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes and two dollars in 1944. He started the incredible compilation of businesses that became Dezi-Lu. He did it all with barely a high school education and barely speaking English.

"I don't have a composer yet," he said. "I am waiting until I finish the script. It will have about five main characters including the Lucille Ball role. The form is unusual . . . Dezi will narrate.

Luckinbill's movie roles include "Such Good Friends," "The Promise," "Cocktail" with Tom Cruise, and "Messenger of Death" with Charles Bronson.

He had a starring role in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," directed by William Shatner. "It was a great part," Luckinbill said. "I played Sybok, a religious fanatic who wanted everyone to see God. He'd kill them if they didn't.

"I'm not really interested in movies," he added. "I like small, personal films. Not films about blowing things up. American movies are too big . . . unwieldy."

Laughing, he said, "I am now at the age -- 56 -- when I really need to do what I want to do as an actor and writer. I want to investigate the roots of American thought in great characters that are history . . . that rise up like big mountains.

"This just happened to me," he said, a note of wonder in his voice. "I like cutting-edge type of material."

The Saturday performance of Laurence Luckinbill's one-man show "Clarence Darrow" begins at 8 p.m. The Medical School Teaching Facility is located at 10 S. Pine St. Admission is $8, $6 for students and senior citizens. For reservations call the UMAB Eventline at 328-8035.

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