For Petaluma actor Jeffrey Weissman, playing the role of Parry in the upcoming “The Fisher King Project” – a stage adaptation of the acclaimed 1991 action-fantasy starring Robin Williams – is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to step into a role made famous by one of his all-time heroes. In the film, Parry is a homeless man who believes he’s on a quest to find the Holy Grail. It earned Williams one of his many Oscar nominations.
“Tonight is our first full run-through of the show,” said Weissman, reporting late last week. “My beard is all in, and I look like the hairy beast that Robin Williams was when he played this part.”
The project was created by Peter Illes, who’s developed a number of similar projects based on classic films. The show, taking place at San Francisco’s Magic Theater, is a fundraiser for Spare a Coin to Save Children, Miracle Messages, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, and other charities that Williams supported. Appearing alongside Weissman are Wylie Herman (as Jack, the Jeff Bridges role), Megan Slankard (Anne), Christopher P. Kelly (Venice), and Sonoma County’s Saskia Baur (Lydia). The show is directed by Jacquie Duckworth.
Weissman, an acclaimed comic and Stan Laurel impersonator, has appeared on stage around the country, and in numerous films, including “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” “Pale Rider,” and “Back to the Future Parts 2 and 3.” He’s portrayed a number of famous people over the years, from Groucho Marx to Charlie Chaplin, but from an early age, it was Robin Williams who people told Weissman he reminded them of.
“’Mork & Mindy’ hit television when I was starting my professional acting career,” recalled Weissman. “And time and again, I’d get feedback from friends and family that I came to mind when seeing Robin’s talent. I became a fan, and watched Robin’s successful transition into feature film work with “Popeye,” “The World According to Garp,” “Moscow on the Hudson,” and onward into both comedic and dramatic roles. I marveled at his lightning fast wit in his improvisation, and his stand-up comedy.”
Though Weissman soon rose through the ranks of Bay Area actors and comedians, he never had the chance to work with, and only met him once.
“It was sometime around 1983,” he said, “while he was waiting for his car to be delivered, when I was a valet parking attendant in between acting gigs. I was star struck and could only quip a non-sequitur about his concert the previous evening - which was the same as putting both feet in my mouth. But in a way, getting to play the Parry role, I now get to be inspired by Robin’s spark and pathos, and try to fill his big shoes and pay tribute to a king of comedy.”
Weissman explained that his goal, in playing Parry, is to let his performance be inspired by Williams, without copying or imitating it.
“When I play Groucho or Stan Laurel, when I played George McFly, those performances were imitations, to a large degree,” he allowed. “But this is an opportunity to create something original. As written in Richard LaGravenese’s original movie script, and adapter by Peter, Parry is amazing. He’s romantic and dramatic. I get to flip out, I get to be funny and bounce off the walls. It’s such a treat to be able to play all of that.
The Fisher King Project
What: A benefit performance of “The Fisher King,” a stage adaptation of the classic Robin Williams film, raising funds for several of the late comic-actor’s favorite charities.
Where: The Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor.
When: Five performances only. Thurs., September 7, 8 p.m., Fri. September 8, 8 p.m., Saturday September 9, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., September 10, 3 p.m.
How much: $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
Information and tickets: TheFisherKingProject.org