A Day in the Death of Will Gardner


“Well, that’s the Good Wife. He’s dead. Josh Charles, ladies and gentlemen.” That’s how David Letterman put it Monday when Josh Charles appeared on Late Night.


Charles’ Good Wife character Will Gardner, the show’s main male lead for its first four seasons, was abruptly murdered in a courtroom on Sunday’s episode.


The Good Wife is one of my favorite shows, not least because it’s a steady opportunity to see great actors I recognize from the New York and regional theater realm. Lots of folks who’ve been in shows at Yale Rep, Long Wharf and other Connecticut regional theaters get shown to good effect on The Good Wife. It’s a much better-quality show for spotting cool guest stars than all those Laws and Orders.


Among those Good Wifers who’ve trod the Long Wharf boards: Josh Charles, whom all this week’s brouhaha is about. Charles was at Long Wharf twice, both times due to director Gordon Edelstein. A small role in the theater’s 1989 production of The Dance Lesson by David Wiltse is what got Charles his Equity card and made him a professional actor. He said so at a gala dinner in October, 2011, honoring Edelstein’s first decade as the Long Wharf’s Artistic Director.


Josh Charles’ other Long Wharf appearance arrived with much more fanfare: Edelstein’s much-admired 2009 internalization of The Glass Menagerie, with Judith Ivey and Keira Keeley and Patch Darragh and Charles as the infamous Gentleman Caller. The production transferred to New York’s Roundabout Theater, but Josh Charles did not go there with it. Those who saw him as the Gentleman Caller can have a special appreciation for the blend of charm and smarm, of social decorum and positively suspect secret motives, that he brought to that character and that he later brought to The Good Wife’s Will Gardner.


Charles said on his Letterman appearance Monday that his eventual departure had been known to the show’s creator’s for the entire last season, that he’d simply not decided to renew his contract. That explains the nothing-to-lose, who-cares-if-they-hate-me intensity Charles brought to Will Gardner for the past several months, as his antagonism towards his former lover and longtime friend Alicia Florrick became more and more reprehensible.


Gardner’s death didn’t exactly follow the guidelines of great dramatic structure. He was offed suddenly and inexplicably, before it dawned on him that the client he was defending in a murder case was dangerously unhinged. Gardner’s death wasn’t a comment on how his character had behaved all season, wasn’t payback for the dark turns he’d taken. There was no dramatic arc closed with the murder. In fact, several longstanding subplots on the show can simply shut down now if the producers feel like it, since Gardner’s bullheadedness was the only thing keeping some of the threats and scandals alive.


Here’s hoping we get Josh Charles back on stage, preferably at the Long Wharf, now he’s not preoccupied by series television. Macbeth seems appropriate somehow. Or a Eugene O’Neill character. Or how about a Herb Gardner play for the erstwhile Will Gardner? That’d seem too good to be true.