It seems like people of a certain age can’t help doing a George Burns impression the moment they have a cigar in their hand.

For Rochester Civic Theatre’s production of “Say Goodnight Gracie,” director Misha Johnson didn’t want an impersonation.

R.J. Traff brings realism and humanity playing the legendary actor and comedian in the one-man show.


Traff needs to win over the audience as Burns in limbo trying to win over a higher power to let him into heaven to reunite with his beloved wife, Gracie Allen.

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Dialog coach Paul Meier helped Traff emulate Burns’ cadence and delivery; and when Johnson asked Traff to jump into song from a spoken phrase, he did it deftly, Johnson said.

“If we wouldn’t have found R.J. to do this show, we wouldn’t have produced it,” she added.

The show features projected video clips and audio of Burns and Allen performances and shows.

But, “It is still a theatrical presentation,” Johnson said.

Costumes were designed by Stef Stafford, the set was designed by Doug Sween, and the projections and lights were arranged by Paul Sund.

Burns and Allen worked together as a duo on stage, in films, and eventually in a television series together. Allen retired from the spotlight in 1958 and died in 1964. Burns later enjoyed a resurgence in his acting and comedy career and stayed active well into his 80s.

He continued to use the tagline “Goodnight, Gracie” in performances long after her death.

“It’s a really, really sweet story,” Johnson said.

The show will be the final performance of the Civic’s abbreviated 69th season.

“Say Goodnight Gracie” will run for one weekend. Johnson said she’s looking forward to seeing if regular theatergoers are up for returning for live performances. The theater will allow up to 50% seating capacity.

“With COVID, you don’t know what the market is for live performances right now,” she said. “I think it’s going to take a bit for audiences to come out and go to shows again.”

If performances fill up, a second Saturday show might be added.

Tickets are available at

If you go

What: Rochester Civic Theatre's production of "Say Goodnight Gracie"

When: 7 p.m. May 14-15; 2 p.m. May 16

Where: Rochester Civic Theatre, 30 Civic Center Drive