The Other Guy: Washington actor Ed Gero takes a lead role

Edward Gero is considered one of the Washington area's leading stage actors, but he has almost always played supporting roles -- until now.

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By Scott W. Berg
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Edward Gero stands alone in the lobby of the Lansburgh Theatre on Seventh Street, the smaller and more intimate of the Washington Shakespeare Theatre Company's playhouses. It's "Meet the Cast" night for the summer's visiting production of "King Lear," a chance for generous donors to log some face time with the show's director and actors, including the mad king himself, Stacy Keach.

Gero, the only regular company actor in the production, plays Gloucester, arguably the play's second-most-important part, but he's got plenty of personal space in which to sip his wine and watch the huddle around Keach at the other end of the room.

On stage, Gero's face is a study in expressiveness, framed by a Romanesque jaw and dark, arched brows capable of any manner of gymnastics. Here, though, his expression is placid, giving away nothing.

Eventually, a beaming pair of middle-aged women approach him. With an air of having happened on a rare find in a vintage store, they tell Gero in low, almost conspiratorial tones how they've been watching him do Shakespeare for 25 years and just love every role he's ever played. The 55-year-old actor and his admirers chat for a few uninterrupted minutes before the women move on, and he returns to his wine and his thoughts.

"That's always nice to hear," Gero says. "I get a lot of this, too. . . ." He wags a finger, imitating an enthusiastic patron. "I know you! I saw you in 'Macbeth'! You played, um, the, um, the other guy!"

You might not remember his roles or even his name, but if you've seen a production of Shakespeare in Washington over the past 26 years, chances are you recognize Gero's face. He has performed 80 roles, 60 of them at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and its earlier incarnation at the Folger Theatre, and all but one in Washington. He's netted four Helen Hayes awards and another eight nominations.

An exemplary career, certainly. He's performed in all of Shakespeare's major works: Macduff in "Macbeth," Bolingbroke in "Richard II," Guildenstern in "Hamlet," and on and on.

But never Macbeth. Or Hamlet. Or King Lear.

He played Henry V once, back in 1984, during his first season of work in Washington. But two years later, the company switched artistic directors, a change that forever altered the trajectory of Gero's career. He had to make some tough decisions about who he was as an actor and what he wanted out of his time onstage. Along the way, he learned about patience, timing and the sacrifices and rewards of having a place to call home.

A lifetime with the Bard has also taught him something else: that loyalty to oneself sometimes means walking away from the thing you love most.

***

In many ways, Gero's career has been dedicated to the proposition that a third-generation Italian American boy from Madison, N.J., the son of a housemaid and a local United Auto Workers union president, could find success and satisfaction in the classical theater wearing period costumes and declaiming in iambic pentameter.


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