2015 True West Award: Jonathan Farwell

Jonathan Farwell True West Awards
Photo by William A. Cotton.


Jonathan Farwell,
The Outgoing Tide, Bas Bleu Theatre Company

Today’s presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

Jonathan Farwell quoteAt age 83, the force of Fort Collins, Jonathan Farwell, delivered a fully fleshed and close-to-the-bone portrayal of a man whose encroaching Alzheimer’s disease steels his determination to control the final course of his life. His fans say Farwell could do it blind. And, in a very real way … he did.

Playing against type as a blue-collar everyman, Farwell’s nuanced performance turned the Bas Bleu Theatre’s controversial staging of The Outgoing Tide into a thoughtful, community-wide discourse on death-with-dignity issues as they weigh against legal and moral responsibilities.

Farwell is not reluctant to talk about having been declared legally blind. After all, it doesn’t mean he can’t see. It only means he can’t legally drive. And what does it matter, since the diagnosis clearly isn’t affecting his ability to deliver one powerhouse performance after another?

We’re not saying Farwell is old, but he was the first El Gallo, back when The Fantasticks was a college workshop. Seriously. On Broadway, he had the thankless job of understudying Yul Brynner in The King & I (and he never once went on). He is best known to the outside world for having played George Rawlins on the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless.

Oh, who are we kidding? Farwell is old. Proudly and defiantly. Hearing aids and all. “But he still has a magnificent brain for theatre and memorization,” said his proud wife, director and actor Deb Note-Farwell.

Jonathan Farwell stars in OpenStage Theatre & Company's 'Amadeus.'

Jonathan Farwell stars in OpenStage Theatre & Company’s ‘Amadeus.’ Photo by Steve Finnestead, Harper Point Photography

The only concessions made for Farwell’s age in rehearsals are custom-made scripts printed in huge type, and with every other line highlighted in a different color. Farwell can no longer write down his blocking notes as other actors do as a matter of course, “but we worked around those challenges,” said Note-Farwell, who directed him in The Outgoing Tide.

Farwell has been a working actor for 53 years, and he has delivered some of his most remarkable work since moving to Fort Collins with his wife in 2005 at the spry age of 73. His King Lear for OpenStage required some suspension of disbelief – at 79, he was a year too young for the role, after all. And in 2013, he won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Salieri in OpenStage’s Amadeus. He was a bit of a ringer in that one – he had first played the role in a 1982 national touring production. Stacy Nick of The Coloradan: wrote that Farwell “offers up a performance that is inspired and inspiring.”

Farwell, a four-year Air Force veteran, has performed in more than 10 productions at Bas Bleu, including The Dresser and The Lion in Winter. He and his wife program and conduct Bas Bleu’s ongoing Reader’s Theatre program. (The Sunshine Boys has one remaining reading, at 2:30 on Saturday, Dec. 19).

In The Outgoing Tide, an intimate family drama by Bruce Graham, Farwell played Gunner, a straight shooter who realizes his mind is slipping, and that he will inevitably become a burden to his embattled wife and grown son. Northern Colorado reviewer Tom Jones called Farwell feisty, kind, irritating and wise. “He is an acting miracle in virtually every character he portrays,” Jones wrote.

Note-Farwell was most impressed because this was a role her husband had no real business playing.

“Jonathan was not a natural fit for Gunner,” she said. “He is most often cast as articulate kings and intellectuals, and here he was playing this blue-collar guy with warts and flaws. When you look at this man who is going to be 84 on Jan. 9, and you can still see the incredible skill set from all his vast experience on full display — it is just remarkable.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore’s daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season
Day 4: Laurence Curry
Day 5: Bernie Cardell
Day 6: Susan Lyles
Day 7: John Jurcheck​
Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
Day 9: DCPA Education’s ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Day 11: Shauna Johnson
Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
Day 14: Keith Ewer
Day 15: Allison Watrous
Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
Day 18: Emma Messenger
Day 19: Shannon McKinney
Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Day 22: Scott Beyette
Day 23: Augustus Truhn
Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
Day 29: Mark Collins
Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company’s Cabaret
Bonus: Donald R. Seawell

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