Theatre Community Gathers to Remember Christopher Evan Welch

By Robert Simonson
18 Feb 2014

Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
"The man just glowed," recalled Mays. "He burned so brightly." He recalled Welch's eyes, "which always seemed ready to close from the bottom up," and the time when he, at age 34, tried pot for the first time in the company of Welch. "He just got more perspicacious and puppy-like, while I became like Stalin during The Great Purge."

Bill Irwin, whose 1997 production of Moliere's Scapin gave Welch his break-out role, sent a note (read by Pankow) in which he recalled growing impatient with the young actor as he ate up rehearsal time rigging up a rope. The idea was to have his character swing in on the role, swashbuckling-style, and then, too afraid to let go, swing back out. "I wondered if it all was worth it," remembered Irwin. In performance, "the bit lasted two seconds. The laugh lasted 12."

Rebeck, who had worked with Welch in her plays Our House and The Scene, call him "a gift of the Gods to all American playwrights," who had a great enthusiasm for participating in new work because it meant he had a hand in creating "the literature for the age."

Norris admitted that "I would not have a playwriting career at all with Chris," noting that Welch appeared in his first play at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where Norris got his start, and in his first play done in New York, 2007's The Pain and the Itch at Playwrights Horizons. He also noted that the actor was in an early reading of Clybourne Park, Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, in the role that was subsequently played off and on Broadway by Jeremy Shamos. Ever the acerbic observer, Norris recalled Welch's competitive side. "He saw Clybourne Park and he said Jeremy Shamos was fine. Actually, 'serviceable' was the word he used. 'But," he said, 'of course, it's my part.'"

Norris said that he and Welch — who adeptly played many a fool and conniver in his career — shared the conviction that audiences weren't interested in seeing virtuous people on stage. "Audiences like to watch greed and cowardice and envy and contempt," he said.

Toward the end of the event, James Palmer played a couple tunes from the repertoire of the Ottoman Bigwigs, the band Welch belonged two. Both songs had lyrics by the actor. One had the two-line chorus of "I don't care what he had/I just care who he was."

Mays recalled another occasion when he and Welch were driving up to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where Mays had a part in a production of Waiting for Godot. "We got hopelessly lost and finally pulled over. Christopher suggested I walk up to a trailer that looked like a set piece from 'Deliverance' and ask directions. He was so excited he was bouncing up and down in his seat. 'This is fantastic,' he said. 'This is our play!'

"He was fantastic," added Mays. "He was the play."