The current PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" commemorates several occasions.
The play not only marks the 100th anniversary of Wolfe's birth but also marks the return of director-writer-actor Jonathan Bolt to the play that began his career 42 years ago.
Born in Statesville and raised in Burlington, Bolt said he loved Wolfe's work as a child, especially "Angel."
"As a young man growing up, I identified with this book," he said.
The reverence for Wolfe's work carried through into Bolt's professional debut in the 1958 Broadway production of "Look Homeward, Angel." His role was Eugene Gant, the son of his current character.
Bolt said he has grown into W.O. Gant's character throughout the course of his career.
He said his connection to Wolfe's play is so powerful that he asked to be let out of his commitment to another play to appear in this one.
"This just meant too much to me," he said.
At college in Richmond, Va., Bolt studied art and came across theater by accident.
After a year in the drama department, a teacher told him to try his luck in New York.
Bolt said he had very few options. He could either take his teacher's advice or return home to Burlington to work in the textile mills alongside his family.
He chose to pursue his career in New York.
When he arrived, the Broadway production of "Look Homeward, Angel" was in previews.
After six months and five auditions, he was the understudy for Anthony Perkins in the role of Eugene Gant.
Eventually, he rose to the starring role.
His mother and brother came to New York to see his debut, but various factors complicated opening night.
"No one knew for sure I was going to do it," he said.
Despite the confusion, Bolt's performance was so well-received that he eventually joined the cast of the "Look Homeward, Angel" national tour.
It was on this tour during a performance in Washington, D.C., that his father saw him in the role on stage for the first time.
"I don't think my father ever truly understood what I did," Bolt said.
But his performance amazed his mill-working father.
His family supported him in his career over the years despite their disparity in lifestyles.
The success of the national tour kept Bolt busy.
He flew back and forth from New York to Los Angeles for various parts but found himself typecast by his Southern background.
"I did a lot of shows with my shoes off and straw in my mouth," he said.
He broke out of his rut by beginning to direct and write plays and got his start as a director in Cleveland.
His first play, "Threads," was premiered by PlayMakers in the 1970s upon his return to New York.
Bolt decided to return to acting three years ago.
He has finally found avenues in which he can stretch his acting muscles, though he still continues writing and directing.
But nothing could have kept him away from this part as W.O. Gant. David Hammond, artistic director of the current production of "Angel" at PlayMakers, said, "(In a conversation with the director), it came to light that he secretly always wanted to play the father."
Bolt hopes his appearance as W.O. Gant won't mean "Look Homeward, Angel" will be the bookends of his career, but this return to the play has been a reaffirmation.
"Acting is what I most love doing."
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