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  • A modest Groucho is the spark on the stage

  • I'm pleased to announce that the Marx Brothers are back in action. Groucho (Mark Bedard), Chico (John Tufts) and Harpo (Brent Hinkley) are alive and carousing unmercifully across the Angus Bowmer stage in Ashland this season, as well as honking, tangoing and unloading questionable real estate to gullible theatergoers.
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  • I'm pleased to announce that the Marx Brothers are back in action. Groucho (Mark Bedard), Chico (John Tufts) and Harpo (Brent Hinkley) are alive and carousing unmercifully across the Angus Bowmer stage in Ashland this season, as well as honking, tangoing and unloading questionable real estate to gullible theatergoers.
    As a devout fan of their brand of madcap, I needed a closer look. So I was delighted when Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Bedard, the embodiment of Groucho's Mr. Hammer character in this season's "The Cocoanuts," agreed to talk with me.
    This is Bedard's second time around taking on the Groucho persona. Two years ago, he played the inimitable Captain Spaulding in "Animal Crackers" and sparked a phenomenon. This time, he also wrote the adaptation from the book by George S. Kaufman and included original Irving Berlin tunes.
    In 1929, when talking pictures first toddled across the silver screen, the Marx Brothers made their first transition from the stage. "The Cocoanuts" was an awkward and disappointing first attempt. And this from a sincere fan.
    Bedard agreed that it lacked continuity and flow with regard to the "always up for gags" plot and musical numbers.
    His work clarifies a storyline that weaves and dodges its way around the boys' shenanigans as Groucho bobs and whirls over props, invariably lodging himself coyly next to the ample bankroll of Mrs. Potter (played to perfection by K.T. Vogt).
    Bedard commented on how strange it was to see the Marx Brothers returning for another run. Shakespeare, sure, it's his playground. But the Marx Brothers?
    I think he's modest.
    Two years ago, when Bill Rauch, artistic director for OSF, asked Bedard about playing Groucho, Bedard hadn't planned to stick around for another season, and he didn't have a clue who these whacko characters were.
    "I never would have auditioned for it. I basically panicked. The Marx Brothers are so iconic," Bedard said. "I spent seven months studying them to prepare for the part."
    A graduate of UC-Irvine, Bedard is in his seventh year with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, performing mostly comedic roles. With the energy required to play Mr. Hammer, it's amazing to learn that he is also cast in the upcoming "A Wrinkle in Time," adapted by Tracy Young from the classic book by Madeleine L'Engle. It opens April 16.
    Bedard tells me that Groucho and his siblings were notorious for their ad-libbing.
    "I feel it's my duty to put in at least one new joke every show," he said.
    Maybe that's why people return for two or three helpings; they don't want to miss a trick.
    I asked whether he had a favorite scene.
    The "two-hander" scene with Chico was a possible favorite, Bedard said, referring to the part in every movie where the two brothers engage in a round of mind-numbing pun patter. In "The Cocoanuts," this includes the classic "viaduct/why a duck" routine. Try holding your laughter if you can, because the bit flies along swiftly like a rubber chicken flung across the room. It's easy to miss a nugget or two.
    "I love the whole play," Bedard said. "I love all the songs."
    This figures, because he grew up in a large, music-loving family.
    Does he ever get nervous?
    "Yes. I never know what's going to happen because of the ad libs."
    When I asked about his future, he answered, "I would love to do theater the rest of my life. I would love to write more."
    I asked Mark whether he would consider another Groucho role. Thirty years ago, I would have batted my lashes and said, "pretty please."
    "I think so, yes," he replied, a wry smile playing over his lips. (Groucho fans will get this.)
    I pressed, "Sure, why not do them all? There aren't that many."
    The curtain descends with me holding him in a half nelson until he agrees.
    Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.
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