Is acting hard or easy?
"I seem to do it all right," says Glenn Edwards. "But I do have to work like crazy to memorize."
You'd work hard, too, if you had to learn 540 lines — yes, he's counted — as the lead character, Willie Clark, in the Porterville Barn Theater production of "The Sunshine Boys."
The show, which continues through Feb. 9, opened last weekend, and Edwards seems to be a hit.
How many autographs did he sign afterward?
"About a dozen," he says.
Oh, and another thing. Edwards is 90. And this is his first starring role on the stage.
Talking with him on the phone from Porterville, I understand why Nicki Edwards, his daughter — and director of the play — cast Edwards in the role of the cantankerous Willie, one-half of an aging vaudeville team, in the Neil Simon comedy. His answers to my questions tend toward the clipped and concise. He strays away from warm and fuzzy banter. And I suspect he's a little grumpy because I phone him a few minutes past the appointed interview time.
"I'm kind of a grouchy character, so it's really almost typecasting," he says.
Yet there's mean grouchy and there's amiable grouchy, and he certainly seems the latter. Even on the phone, Edwards has a great stage presence — and comic timing.
I ask him if he has any roles planned for beyond this one.
"I'd like to have a romantic lead, but I don't know if there's one out there for me," he says.
Theater at 90 isn't a total stretch for Edwards. In 1950, he appeared in a Barn Theater production of "You Can't Take it With You." It was during a golden age of Porterville theater. The cast included Ann B. Davis, who went on to "Brady Bunch" fame, and Richard Deacon, known for "The Dick Van Dyke" show.'
The reason he joined the cast?
"They needed a marimba player," he says, matter- of-factly.
Edwards then promptly retired from theater.
Born in Tulare, he was a star athlete and earned an athletic scholarship at USC. Then World War II and the U.S. Army interceded. He and his three brothers all served.
After the war, at 23, he moved to Porterville to work as a studio photographer. He lived there for 20 years, moved around a bit, and ended up retiring to Arkansas.
Now he's back in Porterville to be closer to his family.
Three of his seven children have been involved with theater. Having his daughter as director is easy.
"I was married for almost 60 years, so I learned to say, 'Yes, ma'am,' " he explains.
Playing Willie Clark in "The Sunshine Boys" was actually her father's idea, Nicki Edwards says.
"I wanted to do it because Dad wanted to do it," she says. "It's been a fun project for us. He's actually ended up helping me out a lot. He had a lot of good blocking and staging ideas."
This is just the second show she's directed for the Barn, but, like her father, she has a long history there. In the 1970s the company achieved quite a bit of local notoriety when it staged a production of "Steambath," and she appeared completely nude on stage.
"We packed the house," she says. "We had to add extra performances."
Her father doesn't show quite as much skin in "The Sunshine Boys" as she did back in the wild '70s, but he can feel vulnerable, especially at the beginning.
When the play opens, Willie Clark is alone on stage.
Most actors get nerves, and he admits to a few. "When I'm sitting there backstage waiting for them to draw the curtain, you never feel so alone in your life," he says.
But then those 540 lines start to cycle through, and he's in the groove.
How does it feel to take that final bow?
"Great," he says. "Nothing like having people love you."
As for his age — no big deal, he says. He isn't even the youngest person involved in the production. Consider the consultant brought in to help stage the vaudeville scene — a prominent historian in town.
"That's my brother Jeff," he says. "He's only 91."
IF YOU GO
"The Sunshine Boys," through Feb. 9, Barn Theater, 42 S. Plano St., Porterville. www.barntheater.porterville.com, (559) 310-7046. $10, $8 students and seniors, $5 children.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, firstname.lastname@example.org and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.