Dowling centre-stage for the final time as he's laid to rest in US
Hanks hails actor as 'life-changing light that never dimmed'
Fewer tears were shed than laughter shared as family and friends gathered to remember Vincent Dowling during a service held on Friday in his adopted home in the United States where he was remembered as obsessive, curious, an Irish treasure and a life-changing influence for scores of actors.
Dowling, 83, died on May 10 at Massachusetts General Hospital due to complications from surgery.
A week after his death, the Irish-born actor and theatre director was centre-stage once again as actors, writers, artists, and friends crowded into the tiny First Congregational Church in Chester – a small, quaint New England village situated in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.
Those who spoke of the fond memories of a man who led an extraordinary life included the actor Holmes Osborne; theatre critic Dennis Dooley; American actor David Birney; Marcia Rock, the producer/director/writer and two-time Emmy winning independent documentary producer who won accolades for her film on the women of Northern Ireland, Daughters of the Troubles: Belfast Stories; friend Bob Jaros and neighbour John Darrow.
His daughters, Bairbre and Rachael, spoke at the memorial service, with Rachael reciting her father's poem When the Leaves Die in Autumn.
Dowling is also survived by his wife, Olwen, an artist, and other children Louise, Valerie and Cian, as well as seven grandchildren to whom he was devoted.
He is also survived by his biological son by Sinead Cusack, the TD Richard Boyd Barrett.
From the first speaker to the last, it was clear that Dowling had a larger-than-life presence that served as a beacon of light for a number of stage, film and television actors under his tutelage, including two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks who asked Osborne to read his words of remembrance.
"Most of us can count on one hand the people in our lives who changed our lives," Hanks wrote. "Vincent Dowling was a life-changing presence to perhaps more people than should be possible."
Hanks described Dowling as a mentor who, in 1977, "whisked off" young actors like himself from Sacramento, California, to his Ohio stage company "for roles in the great plays of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival".
A curious twist of fate
These actors, he said, "teamed up with other actors whose lives had been altered by Vincent". In Sacramento, Hanks added: "Vincent offered up this pearl of wisdom and whimsy, 'That work in the theatre was more fun than fun'.
"Vincent was a life-changing light that has never dimmed, until now. Work in the theatre has been more fun than fun . . . especially when Vincent was in the place."
In recalling his own memories of Dowling, Osborne noted that "Vincent had a profound effect on a number of actors, many of whom spent the brunt of their careers with Vincent", and that he was a pioneer of the stage whose creativity was matched only by his daring.
Osborne's speech was filled with humour and reflections of a great friendship that at times left him emotional and barely able to speak.
In closing, Osborne read the last passages of the Norman Maclean book A River Runs Through It, from which Robert Redford made a film after acquiring the rights to it after they were held by Dowling, then noted Dowling's words about death. "Vincent said, 'Don't call it passing away. Call it dead'."
Birney shared his thoughts on performing Shakespeare for Dowling and the director's propensity to become fixated on a single thought, including the use of bottle bombs during a production of Hamlet.
"I'm sure he is rehearsing a production up there while growing wings," Birney said while looking upwards.
From the small church, family and guests crossed the country road to the strains of a saxophonist to an equally small cemetery where his remains were interred by his son Cian.
At the conclusion of the internment, the guests applauded, as they would for any theatre production.
Dowling was a star in his own right, performing on stages from Moscow to Hong Kong to Washington DC and, finally, in Chester.
"My reality was in, 'Who could I pretend to be?'," Dowling was known as saying. "Acting is to experience everything in God and the devil in yourself on stage."
During his 27 years at Ireland's national theatre, the Abbey, he was artistic director, director of experimental theatre and a leading company actor. He organised the Abbey's first visit to the Moscow Arts Theatre and brought the famous Russian theatre to Dublin.