Off-Broadway Review: THE ACTORS (Theatre Row)

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by Charles Kruger on May 9, 2024

in Theater-New York


Ronnie Larsen, a prolific stalwart of Queer theatre, Off-Broadway and around the country, has made what clearly qualifies as a triumphant return to New York with The Actors, a hilariously funny play performed with comic grace by a fine company from South Florida, Plays of Wilton (POW!). Larsen’s highly original comedy, which opened last night at Theatre Row, follows other subversive works such as Making Porn, Cocksucker: A Love Story, and An Evening with John Wayne Gacy Jr.

Allen Lewis Rickman, Ronnie Larsen

Larsen stars as the character “Ronnie,” a middle-aged man who has recently lost both his parents, is estranged from his siblings, lonely and confused. The nature of his predicament is communicated effectively by a wonderful visual joke. Ronnie stumbles about alone in his apartment, early morning, and opens the kitchen cabinets to reveal several shelves full of children’s cereal. It is a touching image of despair that provokes simultaneous laughter and sighs of recognition. This lovely balance of hilarity and insight is a hallmark of The Actors.

Gabriell Salgado, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jeni Hacker, Ronnie Larsen

Ronnie has come up with a solution for his lost condition. He concocts a plan to hire actors to play his deceased parents. They will visit his apartment a few times a week to perform improvised scenes, feed him meals, tuck him into bed, play games and allow him to revisit the loving comfort of his childhood. What could possibly go wrong?

Jason Guy, Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jeni Hacker

He hires Jean (a dour yet warm Jeni Hacker), the first actor to audition for the role of his Mom. Jean is dubious, to say the least, and admits to hating improv, but she needs work and the pay is good. She is joined quickly by Clarence (who will play Ronnie’s Dad, also Clarence), a charming conniver played by Allen Lewis Rickman, an archetypal old pro who some may recognize for his turn as Red Skelton on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Jeni Hacker, Gabriell Salgado, Allen Lewis Rickman

Jean and Clarence commit with gusto to this cockamamie vision and pretty soon the play takes a metaphysical turn as we watch the actors move rapidly in and out of character, so that it becomes difficult to know when they are acting and when they are not. (Of course, we also realize this is a play: they are ALWAYS acting, right?) With a light touch, but unmistakably, Larsen draws us into considering how we are all actors playing roles with one another, never quite sure who we are, who our loved ones are, and how we really feel. Life is an improvisation. All the world’s a stage. You know the drill. Larsen wisely presents thoughtful reflection while avoiding the temptation to go too deep. He skates on thin ice over deep waters, but never allows it to crack. The comedy stays light.

Jeni Hacker, Gabriell Salgado, Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman

The situation becomes complicated when Clarence, a bit of a ne’er do-well, shows up with suitcases and announces, “Son, your mother has left me and I need to move in with you for a few days!”

“But I’m not your son,” protests Ronnie — but with a shade of doubt.

“Is that any way to talk to your father?” improvises the nervy Clarence, with a wink at Jean, switching between actor and character like an out-of-control strobe lamp. It’s funny. Clarence’s aggressive insinuation into Ronnie’s household is like a very odd variation on Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloan, a sly reference to a classic piece of Queer theatre of which playwright Larsen is no doubt aware.

Jeni Hacker, Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jason Guy, Gabriell Salgado

The complications continue when Jean invites her own son to move in to play Ronnie’s estranged older brother, Jay, played by Gabriell Salgado, a skilled young actor and comedian with the looks of a soap opera star who is clearly going places. He has a considerable talent to amuse.

The mayhem reaches a climax when the real Jay (Jason Guy) shows up to reconcile with his younger brother and is astonished when he walks into this foolish yet oddly loving menagerie. Not surprisingly, the brothers achieve a reconciliation and all ends well. The journey is predictable, but unerringly clever, full of laughter and insight into family dynamics, with a nice seasoning of philosophical depth.

Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jeni Hacker

Director Stuart Meltzer (Artistic Director of Miami’s Zoetic Stage) keeps all the complications clear. The scenic design by Stone Dog Studio is appealing and serviceable, as are Laura Turnbull’s costumes. The South Florida theatre community is well represented here, and all I can say is “Welcome to New York!”

photos by Russ Rowland

The Actors
Plays of Wilton (POW!)
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St.
Wed at 2 & 7; Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on June 1, 2024
for tickets ($45-$65), visit The Actors Play

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