Not just for theater nerds

Portions of the Gerard A. and Georgia B. Larson Theatre Collection are on display at the Sacramento State University Library’s Department of Special Collections and University Archives through Friday, August 17. It’s open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and located on the first floor of the University Library. See here for more info.

Sacramento State

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Sacramento, CA 95819

(916) 278-5155

There are more than a few local theater stalwarts who owe their start on the stage to Doc Larson—officially, Gerald A. Larson, Ph.D., a Sacramento State professor of theater from 1957 to 1994. Doc, who died in 1999, spent his time away from campus touring the world with his wife, Georgia, and together they amassed a collection of theater-related ephemera that’s unmatched—at least locally—and now on display at the Sac State Special Collections and University Archives.

It’s easy to be distracted by the merely recent—a thank-you card from the 1976 cast and crew of Luigi Pirandello’s Enrico IV, which includes the following inscription from a young “T. Hanks”: “Doc, Thanks a bunch, you, peach you, for the chance.”

But that’s just celebrity. There’s real theatrical history here, too, starting with a contemporary drawing of the plans for the rebuilding of the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane for the fourth time, after the fire that destroyed Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s huge rebuild in 1809. Doc’s collection includes engravings of Edmund Kean as Richard III (though his humpback doesn’t look particularly humpy) in the wee early years of the 19th century; if you miss the import of that, ask a theater nerd.

Oh, I can’t wait for one to answer—Kean was considered not just the greatest actor of his generation, but the greatest actor of all time. Take that, Tom Cruise. In your dreams, dude.

Of course, Doc didn’t stick to the so-called “legitimate” theater. He also amassed plenty of circus paraphernalia, including special backstage permits and some handwritten notes from Mr. Phineas Taylor (that’s P.T. to most of us) Barnum, as perhaps a gentle reminder that even the finest of actors is only a tiny historical remove from bearded ladies and the rest of the freak show. After all, the idea is to amaze, awe, gross out and entertain, which goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of fart jokes in Adam Sandler movies and the fascination with disemboweling on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

So the fabulously detailed engraving of Mr. Carter (“The Lion King”) from 1840, featuring the star with his head in the mouth of the big cats shares billing with a copy of …mile Zola’s Le Naturalisme au Théâtre—signed by Zola himself.

There’s an apologetic note to Doc from Sir Laurence Olivier, apologizing for being unable to open his rehearsal to observers; a letter from Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, the subject of Doc’s academic research; and a note from Russian director and filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.

And if that’s not enough of a who’s who from the theatrical arts, check out a postcard from Irish playwright and political fireball George Bernard Shaw in which he provides very precise directions on how to play the character “F.D.” to British actor Harold Scott.

And unless some theater nerd can tell me which character that is, I’ll be forced to go digging through all of Shaw’s plays—which doesn’t sound like a bad way for a theater nerd to spend the summer.