Fifteen years ago, Marty Berger acted on an impulse. Now he's acting all over the Valley.
At age 70, Berger's resume as a part-time stage actor has grown to include a variety of roles at local theaters. His current role is that of Isaac Cantor, an Orthodox Jew, in Arizona Jewish Theatre Company's production of "The Gift Horse," which opens at the Herberger Theater on Saturday, Nov. 6.
A pediatrician for 40 years, Berger moved to Litchfield Park with his wife, Pat, 30 years ago from his native New Jersey to open two medical practices in Phoenix and Goodyear.
A father of six, Berger meanwhile watched his children - most of whom are in the entertainment business - act and sing for years.
"I used to take my youngest daughter, Kathleen, to rehearsal (for Litchfield Park community theater productions)," Berger recalls. "I would sit there and watch (the actors) and thought, 'Hey, I can do that.' I told Kathleen that the next time there was a part for an old fart, I was going to audition for it."
In 1984, without a single acting or singing lesson under his belt, Berger landed his first role - as Doc, the pharmacist, in a summer theater production of "West Side Story" in Glendale. When he found he could continue his pediatric practice, plus act in the evenings, he was sold on auditioning for more roles, he says.
Berger has acted in productions including Neil Simon's "Sunshine Boys," at Max's Dinner Theater in Phoenix earlier this year; "Reservoir Dogs," at various theaters; "The Tenth Man" for AJTC; and "Bye Bye Birdie" at the Lyric Opera Theater.
In two productions - "On Golden Pond" at Theater Works in 1992, and "Broadway Bound" (the third of Neil Simon's autobiographical trio) at the Camelback Inn in 1993, Berger played the father of AJTC's Producing Director Janet Arnold.
"I am 70, 6-foot-1, and have gray hair and a beard, so I can't play a young person," he explains.
Berger sometimes learns about casting calls by calling an audition hotline. Other times, directors call Berger to ask if he will play a certain role.
"Whenever (AJTC) needs a good older man, we call Marty," says Arnold. "He always knows his lines before the first day of rehearsal. ... As an actor, he just has (what it takes)."
Arnold adds that because Berger is Jewish, he has the advantage of understanding whatever Jewish characters (in this case, Isaac Cantor) he plays in AJTC productions. However, he plays more than Jews. Berger jokes that within one year's time, he has "been a Catholic priest, murdering gang leader and an old Jewish man."