Gene Pack may have been spending the past several evenings (plus three more upcoming performances) waiting . . . and "Waiting for Godot," but he hasn't had to do much thumb-twiddling when it comes to finding work on stage and in film.
"I've been very lucky," says Pack, who has worked fulltime at KUER-FM, the University of Utah's PBS radio affiliate, for 38 years. He didn't even have to audition for two of his most recent stage roles - Vladimir (Didi) in the Theatre Inc., production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," which will finish its run this weekend in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and as Charles in Salt Lake Acting Company's equally acclaimed comedy, "Incorruptible.""I did audition for `Dancing at Lughnasa' (TheatreWorks West's production in 1995), because I wanted to do that role so much, but the others have been calls, and that makes me feel very lucky."
With his vast experience on local stages and in several film projects, it's not surprising that directors who are acquainted with his work simply pick up the phone and say, "Gene, I've got a great role for you." His theatrical work in the Salt Lake City area goes back to the legendary Playbox at the University of Utah.
"One of my early roles there was in Kafka's `The Trial,' which had the same feeling as `Godot' does. It was also an existentialist play, a kind of man-against-everybody-else play about a man who's on trial, but no one will tell him what the alleged crime was."
Pack said it may be hard to believe, but for all the years he and Tony Larimer have performed around the Wasatch Front, "Waiting for Godot" marks the first time they've appeared together. (Larimer plays Pozzo, a dapper traveler who happens to cross paths with two somewhat forlorn derelicts - Didi and Gogo, the latter played by another well-known local radio personality, Bill Allred of KXRK-FM, "X-96").
While "Godot" has long been considered the ultimate existentialist play, Pack notes that "it was written right after World War II, when things were pretty horrible - the Holocaust, the bomb . . . prospects then were not so hot. No wonder they (Didi and Gogo) thought they were sitting in a slag heap.
"But in the end, they find hope. They've ordered their lives around waiting for Godot (who never appears), but there is love and that holds them together, and there is great hope for the future. They still go on waiting because they don't know how to do anything else.
"Tony and I have been talking about the old Playbox. We saw and acted in so much wonderful theater there under Robert Hyde Wilson. I hope this new Rose Wagner hall will be a rebirth of the kind of theater done at the Playbox and the former Theater 138. A lot of my work was with Theater 138, which Ariel Baillif, Stu Falconer and Tom Carlin ran for 22 years. I did about 60 shows there. I was lucky to work opposite Margaret Crowell. One newspaper critic called it the Tracy and Hepburn of Salt Lake City."
(Wilson, who directed dozens of plays at the U. of U. and at the old Lagoon Opera House before moving to the East Coast, may be moving back to Salt Lake soon, Pack has heard.)
Pack also thought maybe it was a good sign that both Theater 138, which was located in a long-since razed church building at 138 S. 200 East, shares a similar street address with the new Rose Wagner center, situated just a few blocks away at 138 W. 300 South.
In addition to hosting KUER's morning classical music program, Pack has appeared in such projects as the film "Footloose," the TV miniseries "The Executioner's Song," the ongoing CBS series "Promised Land" and the TV-movie "In the Line of Duty: Siege at Marion."
The recipient of a 1983 "Honors in the Arts Award" from the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Pack is a Salt Lake native. "I'm living in the house where my parents were born and my great-grandfather John Pack is among those depicted on the This Is the Place Monument."
He also feels fortunate to have studied under some of the great educators on the U. campus - O.C. Tanner (who taught philosophy), Louise Howe Mullaney (who died just a few months ago in California) and Jack Adamson, among others.
But just because Pack is 65, don't expect him to retire anytime soon. He loves his work. He enjoys living in his boyhood home (with a swell cat for company).
"I'm having a great time," he said.