SALEM — He’s a drunk, a thief, a braggart and a bad influence on the nation’s leaders — yet people have always loved Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, the aging, hard-living chum of the king’s son.
In a performance at Salem State University this month, Thomas Luddy, 72, will bring to life the iconic knight, a character who can’t be described as bad or good, but who offers a chill warning of what life would be without him.
“Banish plump Jack,” he tells the soon-to-be Henry V, “and banish all the world.” The king will break with him anyway, but not before Luddy gives the audience a demonstration of his roguishly entertaining ways.
A fixture in the school’s English and theater departments, Luddy has made a career of directing and acting in plays both for the school and at local theater groups in Rockport, Boston and Marblehead. Born in North Adams, son of a college teacher, he went to Boston College after high school and later pursued advanced degrees there and at New York University. He has two kids and four grandchildren with his wife, Eileen.
After landing his first teaching job in Salem State’s English department in 1965, he moved quickly to add theater to his responsibilities. Passionate about the arts, he concedes he might have pursued a career in the theater but decided, “It’s hard. You’re on the road all the time.” Even talented performers face long odds in finding success. “There’s room at the top for only a small number of people.”
He got plenty of theater in Salem while serving both art and academia.
“I’ve had an outstanding career,” he said.
As for theater, “It was the process that attracted me.” With so many disciplines involved — writers, directors, actors, costumers, set designers, musicians, crew — it can be organized chaos. “You’re doing all this work, and you don’t know if it’s going to pay off. ... Twenty or thirty egos at work.” It almost seems to require a kind of magic to succeed, he said.