- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

NEW YORK
Frank Gorshin may be best known as the Riddler of the 1960s "Batman" television series, dishing out short, corny verbal puzzles aimed at stumping his superhero nemesis.
In his current role, he is still playing a crafty fellow whose bread and butter is one-liners. But Mr. Gorshin has traded in TV for Broadway and his comic-book villain for the persona of George Burns.
Mr. Gorshin's one-man show, "Say Goodnight, Gracie," which opened Thursday at the Helen Hayes Theater, is a mixed bag. A must-see for fans of Mr. Burns, it's likely to hold only marginal appeal for other theatergoers.
Still, there's no faulting Mr. Gorshin for what is an astonishingly believable portrayal of the gravelly-voiced entertainer, who died in 1996 at age 100 after a legendary career.
With his neatly combed gray hair, big round eyeglasses, orange turtleneck and sport coat, Mr. Gorshin, as Mr. Burns, first appears onstage as mist floats in. He says it reminds him of a gray place where nothing seems to be happening it's either a state of limbo, or maybe it's Buffalo.
That's the first of many wisecracks that keep the audience either laughing or groaning for most of the 90 minutes. Humorous or not, the lines are delivered perfectly by Mr. Gorshin with the slow self-assurance that was Mr. Burns' trademark. As the play pushes on, it becomes eerily easy to forget that the cigar-chomping character onstage is not really Mr. Burns.
Beyond the jokes, the play's narrative offers a fairly straightforward look back at Mr. Burns' life.
It begins in New York City's Lower East Side, where Mr. Burns, aka Nathan Birnbaum, grows up quickly after the early death of his father. There's the discovery of his fondness for show business. His first cigar. His first lunch date with Gracie Allen, who would become Mr. Burns' partner and great love. His close friendship with Jack Benny.
All along, there's Mr. Burns' unlikely and resilient career, which spanned vaudeville, radio, television and film. Director John Tillinger cleverly employs a mix of old slides and film footage to help Mr. Gorshin trace how Mr. Burns cleverly adapted to shifts in the cultural tastes and technology that marked several decades of entertainment history.
In several segments, Mr. Burns is seen interacting with Miss Allen, who delivers some of the ditzy jokes for which she became known. Some of these moments are touching, even though Miss Allen is only an invisible presence, her voice provided offstage by actress Didi Conn.
For the most part, writer Rupert Holmes avoids too much sentimentality or sadness, preferring to keep things upbeat. The play lingers only momentarily on sadder moments in Mr. Burns' life, including the deaths of Miss Allen and Mr. Benny.
Mr. Burns often joked about his advancing age and once said he had "reached the point where I get a standing ovation for just standing." He likely would have another quip for "Say Goodnight, Gracie," which offer his steadfast fans still another chance to applaud him.
ASSOCIATED PRESS


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