Director Jim Bernfield’s new documentary ME TO PLAY features well-known veteran Broadway and TV actors Dan Moran and John Christopher Jones, both of whom are struggling with Parkinson’s Disease. The documentary will be streaming exclusively on Fandor beginning September 20, 2022. ME TO PLAY premiered at Slamdance and has since screened at more than 30 festival events. MovieMaker Magazine called it their “favorite film at Slamdance.” It is at times sad and difficult to watch but primarily, it is an inspiring film that I highly recommend you check out.
You may be wondering why a dance critic is covering a documentary about two actors instead of two dancers, but I am someone who can relate to one’s body that was once in total control and was my instrument for a very long and rich career, suddenly not responding the way it used to. Actors generally have a longer career than dancers but the loss of that control is no less devastating. It can be said that no one who contracts Parkinson’s is not affected any less, but for performers who have worked their entire life to hone their instrument, it somehow feels like it hits a little harder.
ME TO PLAY follows Moran and Jones over a period of several months as they take on performing Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, a story of two vaudevillian performers caught in a routine of sorrow while waiting for their lives to end. We learn that Beckett wrote Endgame, originally published in 1957, after his mother passed away from Parkinson’s, so perhaps, no two actors are more suited to act in this play than Moran and Jones.
Indeed, it is this irony that both actors discuss during the film, but it doesn’t not make the actuality of it any easier, only more poignant.
Bernfield goes behind the scenes and into the personal lives of these two men who, when the disease hit them, were both at the top of their acting careers. We experience close-up the affects the illness has on their bodies and emotions, as well as how difficult it is on their loved ones who do not hold back in expressing their fear, frustration and even anger at how the illness has completely upended their lives. Jones is married to Mary Beth Coudal and they have three children. Moran’s spouse is Ruth Kreshka and together they have two children. Both spouses are also actors.
Parkinson’s Disease affects each person differently, and the progression is often painfully slow. There are medications that help dramatically, but there is as yet no cure. Knowing this, Maron and Jones go through times when they feel or want to give up and not finish the production. With the help of their families, the other actors, and the years of discipline these two men have worked at, they persevere.
Although Bernfield shows us a few limited scenes from Endgame, ME TO PLAY is not about the play. It is about Moran and Jones and how their ultimate refusal to quit can be an inspiration to all of us, whether or not we are ill. Referring to his play Endgame, Beckett said that “there’s nothing funnier than unhappiness.” It is a one act play that involves a blind, paralyzed, and domineering elderly man, and his somewhat servile and doddering companion. There was only one performance of Endgame at Classic Stage Company in New York City with Moran and Jones, but just maybe it was one of the authenic and funniest productions to date.
ME TO PLAY was directed and produced by Jim Bernfield; Co-produced by Steven Meyer; Edited by Anna Gustavi; Music composed and performed by David Van Tieghem; Starred Dan Moran and John Christopher Jones. Director of Photography: Saro Varjabedian; and Finishing Editor: Ben Brown
Endgame was written by Samuel Beckett; Starred Moran and Jones; Co-starred Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick; Artistic Director: Brian Kulick. Music composed and performed by David Van Tieghem, Theatrical Production Directed by Joe Grifasi; Theatrical Lighting by Beverly Emmons; Theatrical Scenic and Costume Design by Robert R. Sweetnam; Theatrical Production by Ruth Kreshka
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Dan Moran and John Christopher Jones in Jim Bernfield’s documentary “ME TO PLAY” – Screenshot modified by Heidi Millay.