A memorial celebration has been scheduled for 7 PM, Monday, June 30, to honor Chicago actor Page Hearn, who died of a heart attack May 17. It will take place at the theater he’s credited with having saved, City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.
“Page H. Hearn, years younger than the role he plays, is a pretty damn convincing old coot,” I wrote in a 1986 review. Indeed, in a 22-year career in off-Loop theater, Hearn–tall and prematurely bald–specialized in characters older than himself. But I was shocked to learn that he was just 48 when he dropped dead while crossing a street in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Hearn was best known for his portrayal of Jeeves, the pluperfect British valet, in a string of popular comedies based on the stories of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Lawrence Bommer wrote that Hearn “depicts Bertie’s manservant with a superiority so cleverly camouflaged it looks like servility.”
Another Hearn specialty was Edgar Allan Poe, who died in Hearn’s hometown of Baltimore. His one-man show of Poe stories, Descent Into the Maelstrom , was a Halloween perennial at various locations around town. On one occasion, Hearn’s bald pate generated unexpected laughter when he forgot to don his raven-black Poe wig before making an entrance, but he soldiered on.
Hearn left Chicago in 2005, when his lover, Steve Gutierrez, got a job on the east coast. He welcomed the chance to pursue more lucrative acting work in New York, and made his network TV debut playing a jury foreman on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that aired May 6. He and Gutierrez had just finished moving to new digs in Brooklyn when he died.
Hearn worked with numerous theaters, including About Face, Lifeline, Bailiwick Repertory, the Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre, Raven, Commons, and Cloud 42. But City Lit was his home base for most of his career here. He was the quintessential do-it-all off-Loop theater artist. From 1988 until he moved to New Jersey, he worked there “as actor, director, understudy, playwright, adapter, director of touring, tech director, managing director, and de facto artistic director,” according to a press release issued by the company. Most important, he guided City Lit through some of its darkest financial times and helped install the troupe in its permanent home in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church. “For a good five years he carried this place,” said Terry McCabe, who took over leadership of City Lit from Hearn. “And the only reason it’s still open is because of him.”