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Theater: 'Ghost' is spirited tribute to actor

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John Barrymore couldn't help but become famous.

Born into America's "first family of theater," he was blessed with classic good looks, was hailed as the best Shakespearean actor of his day and made a successful transition from stage to screen. He could also be given to ruinous excess; a biography on says Barrymore was "blithe and mercurial by nature, with a penchant for alcohol and chorus girls." An obituary of his brother Lionel mentioned his "errant and flamboyant brother John."

John Barrymore's rich repertoire of work, multifaceted personality and famous relatives make him a fascinating character study. It's one actor J. Michael Carroll explores in the Lionheart Theatre Company's production of "Barrymore's Ghost," a one-man play written by Jason Miller. The show opened Friday night.

"It's an honor to play a man as complex as John Barrymore," said Carroll, who thoroughly researched his subject and the esteemed family. "I feel like he's an old friend."

Carroll portrays multiple roles during the play, including Lionel and sister Ethel Barrymore, to round out the story.

A community theater veteran, Carroll has experience in portraying several characters in one show, but this is his first one-man production.

"It's a tremendous challenge," Carroll said. "My goal is for you to feel like you're having an intimate conversation."

One-man shows can be tremendously popular, but Tanya Carroll, Lionheart's founder and J. Michael Carroll's wife, said a one-man show is a bit of a risk for a community troupe.

"In community theater you do rely on your cast to supply your audience," she said. But she and director Debbie McLaughlin are confident it will draw a crowd.

"We read it through and thought it was a great piece," Tanya Carroll said. "It's appealing to the public. People know Drew Barrymore even if they don't know the Barrymores."

Drew Barrymore is John Barrymore's granddaughter.

McLaughlin said the play came with little stage direction, offering Lionheart great freedom in staging the production. The group decided on an all black-and-white set, hearkening the black-and-white movies of Barrymore's day, and will augment the live action with a photo slide show.

"There's a lot of audience connection," McLaughlin said. "It's like sitting in John Barrymore's living room."

The show, at Berkeley Lake Chapel, 4043 S. Berkeley Lake Road, will be performed at 7:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday; and at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Sept. 10. Tickets, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, include dessert.

To make reservations, see or call 770-806-0935.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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