Actor George Grizzard, who was to play the title role in the Kennedy Center's upcoming production of "Tartuffe," was fired yesterday after 2 1/2 weeks of rehearsals.
His role in Molie re's classic comedy--that of a manipulative religious hypocrite who turns a French household upside down--will be taken over by British actor Brian Bedford, who is also directing the production. A Kennedy Center spokesperson said the cast change would not affect the previously scheduled playing dates of the production, which starts previews Thursday in the Eisenhower Theater.
Grizzard was fired by Ralph Allen, theatrical consultant for the Kennedy Center, who has been overseeing the series of CBS-financed plays, inaugurated last fall with "The Physicists." Grizzard costarred with Bedford in that drama.
The firing took place after a stormy meeting yesterday afternoon among Grizzard, Allen, Bedford and British playwright Simon Gray, who has written a new adaptation of the comedy for this engagement. "This is not a case of artistic differences or mutual agreement. I want it known that I leave kicking and screaming," Grizzard said last night. "I think there was a basic belief from the beginning that Brian and I couldn't work together. But I wouldn't have accepted the role if I didn't think I could do it. I've never been fired before in my life. It was a terrible shock. I feel hurt, humiliated and angry."
Bedford described yesterday's events as "one of the most painful days in my professional life in the theater. I didn't want what happened to happen. Any director who is worth his salt is there to stimulate an actor to pursue his vision of the part. In my opinion, that wasn't happening." He said the decision to fire Grizzard was reached jointly by him, Gray and Allen.
"Tartuffe" was selected late this winter to be part of the Eisenhower season, replacing a production of Molie re's "The Imaginary Invalid," which fell through because of scheduling conflicts. When Allen initially announced plans for "Tartuffe," he said it would be built around Grizzard. Subsequently, Bedford was hired as director, and then Gray was commissioned to write a new English-language version of the play.
"Allen should have protected me," Grizzard said. "I feel betrayed. Now you have a British actor, directing and acting in a play by a British writer. And it's in an American theater."
Grizzard has a long string of Broadway credits, including "California Suite," "Crown Matrimonial," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Royal Family." He has performed extensively in regional theaters, including Arena Stage early in his career. He costars in "Wrong Is Right," a new Richard Brooks movie, awaiting release.