On Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m. at Bellingham Theatre Guild, 1600 H St., a free “Lend Us Your Ears” readers’ theater production of “Visiting Mr. Green” will be presented, under the direction of Marla Bronstein.
Bob Simmons, a good friend to me and to so many others, was to be part of this play that follows the weekly interactions of an elderly man and a corporate executive brought together by a car accident.
This past Saturday, on June 15, Bob died, surrounded by his family and held in the arms of his loving wife, Dee, at the Hospice House in Happy Valley. Two weeks ago they were heading over the mountains when he was taken ill. Bob’s daughter Caryn says he was in the hospital for two weeks and hospice for 24 hours.
Bob had his script with him and was going over his lines while in the hospital. But his time on the stage was not to be this time around, and Bellingham actor Leon Charbonneau will read in his stead, alongside Kris Erickson, and Jeffrey Stiglitz.
Director Marla Bronstein posted this on her Facebook page, and with her permission, I am copying it here.
“After Bob read and agreed to be in my reader’s theater production of “Visiting Mr. Green” I couldn’t imagine anyone else local in that part. I had promised a limited rehearsal schedule, but it seemed like Bob wanted to rehearse EVERY DAY. Looking back now, I wish I had done that, just to have had more time with him…. I always thought of Bob Simmons as a brilliant man. I am sorry I never got deeper with him than our mutual projects and a superficial amount of his LA history. Interestingly enough, he had been friends with the family of an old high school friend.
Until Bob first told me about his “heart procedure” at our last rehearsal for the June 22 performance for “Visiting Mr. Green”, I thought he was invincible. I mean, I knew he could get sick. He was sick a few times during (her 2016 production) “August, Osage County” but I didn’t know how sick. The man is the Energizer Bunny. Always giving 125 percent until his battery wears down, until it’s so worn down that there is no replenishing. At that last rehearsal, Bob had a lot of the lines memorized. I was watching him during the rehearsal. He wasn’t reading ahead. He knew chunks of dialogue. At 89 years old, he was not going to rely on script in hand for more than a reminder of his lines.
Then early in June, I got two texts from Caryn (his younger daughter).
The first text was, When is the next rehearsal? I glossed over the part where she said “he doesn’t have his calendar with him.” My first thought was “goddammit Bob. I don’t want to do this play without you. Why is this so hard to remember? I should replace you in case you forget to show up for the performance.” I told her it was in three weeks.
The second text, right after I asked how he was feeling since his heart procedure, “Did you know my Dad was in the hospital?” Again, my first thought was “goddammit Bob. I don’t want to do this play without you. Don’t bail on me.” I hadn’t done what was recommended to do — to get a backup in case he backed out. I never ever really thought he wouldn’t get up on that stage, one more time.
The first time I went to visit in the hospital, he was lying in the bed. My first thought was “goddammit Bob. I don’t want to do this play without you.” I told him I’d find someone else for this play, there would be others. “The Sunshine Boys” came up. I told him he needed to focus on getting better, not doing the play. I’ll take this burden off of the “things to do.” He “happened” to have the script in the hospital. No calendar, his daughter had told me. But the script he thought to bring. Dee told me he was still working to memorize his lines. I wanted to take that stress off him, so I took the script. I just wanted him to get/feel better. I promised him I would try to arrange for the boys to come read the script at the house at the end of the month.
The second time I went to visit him in the hospital, he was sitting up in a chair, and had oxygen tubes stuck up his nose, and said he’d be on oxygen forever, and that he didn’t want to cart the contraption on stage. My first thought was “goddammit Bob. I don’t want to do this play without you. At least be in the audience.” Leon had said yes, he’d play Mr. Green and Bob seemed thrilled. He said he’d come see the play when he got home.
The third time I came to visit in the hospital he was in bed again. Flat on his back, but in still in good spirits. “Foot drop” he said. My first thought was, “goddammit Bob. I don’t want to do this play without you. Good thing BTG has an elevator. Wheelchair, oxygen, short of a saline drip, you could get into the house and be in the audience.”
Tuesday I went to see him again. It might be for the last time. I can’t stop thinking, “goddammit Bob, I don’t want to do this play without you.” But he wants us to do this. And I will, if only to honor him. I know Leon will do his very very best, and it will be wonderful. And Bob would be proud.”
There’s so much more to Bob than many of us know: his career as a journalist, his love of singing, poetry, and hiking. And his sonorous voice, even in conversation. His twinkling eyes and generous smile.
The celebration of life for this most wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend is planned for 2 p.m. June 30 at the Lairmont Manor.