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The Actors

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - May 8, 2024

Photo Caption: Jason Guy, Ronnie Larsen,
Allen Lewis Rickman, and Jeni Hacker

Photo by Russ Rowland
Never judge a book by its cover, or, apparently, a playwright by his prior works. This certainly applies to playwright Ronnie Larsen, whose oeuvre includes such titles as An Evening with John Wayne Gacy Jr., Making Porn, and Cocksucker: A Love Story. A niche collection for a niche audience, to be sure. But now there's The Actors, opening tonight at Theatre Row. It is, surprisingly, a genial sitcom with a big heart, full of offbeat, often quite funny humor, a foray into meta-theatre, and a touching family story all rolled into one pleasurable evening. All are welcome!

The Actors arrives here following successful and highly praised runs in Utah, Michigan, and Florida. If this list of previous venues makes you wonder how New York audiences will take to it, let me expand my already-expanded adage and say, never judge a production by the locale of its prior engagements.

The premise of the play sounds a bit nutso. A middle-aged zhlub of a man named Ronnie (played by Ronnie Larsen himself) is unable to get on with his life following the death of both his parents. Therapy has not been of any help, so he has come up with a solution. He will hire actors to report to his apartment a few times a week to interact with him the way he recalls his parents did when he was a child. Perhaps that will lift him out of his funk.

And so he does. And so it goes, as he enlists Jean and Clarence (played by a pair of talented actors, Jeni Hacker and Allen Lewis Rickman), who agree for a negotiated fee to take on the roles of Ronnie's mom and dad. Jean, in particular, is skeptical at first, but in the end a job's a job, and so why not? And, indeed, things do seem to be working out for a while. Until Jean and Clarence start to get a little bit too caught up in the storyline and improvise well beyond the narrative Ronnie has devised. ("They're wonderful actors," he says of them at one point, "but they can't take direction.")

Soon, Ronnie's life is no longer his own. Neither, it seems, is his apartment. But just as things are about to explode into an absurdist circus, who should show up at the door but Ronnie's brother Jay (Jason Guy, another polished actor), who lives across the country and whom he hasn't seen since their father died four years earlier. Yet Jay is no deus ex machina, there to save the day (and the play) from going over the cliff. There is more than a degree of sibling rivalry and old habits that they fall into, along with some family secrets to be revealed before the plot resolves.

Throughout, there are plenty of twists to keep the story flying, but as a playwright, Larsen has a way of mixing outlandish situations with unfeigned moments that ring true, while the steady hand of director Stuart Meltzer keeps everything just on this side of feasible. Through this collaboration, the production comes together in a way that brings to mind one of Neil Simon's funny/heartfelt plays that combine pieces of autobiography with skilled playwriting. And that makes The Actors something that Utahn and New York audiences alike can appreciate.

The Actors
Through June 1, 2024
Theatre Row, Theatre Four, 410 West 42nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: