BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing columnist
In public and in more private ways, many people in the theater community have spent the past two days demonstrating an outpouring of love for Maceo Davis, a respected Bakersfield actor who died Wednesday at age 34. Those close to the performer said the cause of death has yet to be determined.
"As an actor, he just swept you into your role and he always let you have your moment," said Helen Prine, who knew the actor both onstage and off, having worked with him at Bakersfield Family Medical Center. "He'd watch you from the wings and he was always the first one to applaud you."
News of Davis' passing has spread quickly in the theater community, and a number of people gathered outside Stars Restaurant Theatre downtown on Wednesday evening for an impromptu candlelight vigil as tribute to him.
Brent Rochon, who has directed and acted with Davis in productions at Stars and Bakersfield Music Theatre, said the gathering was a cross-section of the community.
"At the vigil, people came from all over, people who probably have never been together before," Rochon said. "There were no boundaries with him. Maceo was one of the purest hearts and loving souls I've ever known, and we will miss him."
Understandably, Davis' mother, Lancia Griffin, was shocked at the suddenness of her son's death but her pride in his accomplishments was clear despite her grief.
"He was brilliant; his first play was in the first grade at Bessie Owens School," she said in a phone conversation."Then in junior high he was in the Shakespeare Festival -- he was the only one from Emerson in it."
Later, Davis appeared in productions at Bakersfield High School, where he graduated in 1996. A few years later he gave a memorable performance as the slave Jim in "Big River" for BMT.
Althea Williams was a frequent acting partner for Davis, and the two brought out the best in each other during their collaborations at Bakersfield Community Theatre.
"I am absolutely heartbroken," she said on Wednesday. "It's been a really, really hard day for me today. He just went to sleep last night and didn't wake up this morning."
Many have commented on the actor's versatility, and Williams spoke of that quality, recalling playing opposite Davis in three very different roles.
"He played my lover in 'A Woman Called Truth;' my son in 'Raisin in the Sun' and a stranger in my house in 'Gem of the Ocean.' He was a ray of sunshine -- always happy, very cheerful and very professional."
As for me, I, too, am saddened that we will no longer see Davis onstage. He was outstanding in everything he did and has long been one of my favorite actors.
But I feel a sense of gladness knowing that the last time he appeared on stage must have been a fulfilling moment for him. In an interview I did with him earlier this year, I asked about characters he'd like to play -- his dream roles -- and his response tells a lot about his willingness to take risks as an artist.
"I love 'Rocky Horror,'" he said, "and Frank-N-Furter is totally out of the box (compared) to what people are used to seeing me do."
It's good to know that only two months ago, Davis realized that dream when he got to play the mad scientist in BCT's production of "The Rocky Horror Show."
Services had not been scheduled as of Thursday. Bruce Saathoff, artistic director of BMT/Stars, and Sheila McClure, BCT's artistic director, are considering a memorial for him.
"We haven't planned the event yet," Saathoff said. "We want it to be after the funeral, so we are waiting to hear about that."
Saathoff also said, "Maceo was an invaluable asset to BMT and he shall be sorely missed, not only because of his amazing talent, but as a beloved member of the Bakersfield Music Theatre family."
Prine, who appeared with Davis in "George M.," "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat," and other BMT shows, quoted a line from the "Wizard of Oz," to sum up her feelings about the actor:
"'A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but how much it is loved in returned.' Maceo's was immeasurable."