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The Actors

A charmingly humorous Neil Simon-like sitcom in which a grieving man hires actors to impersonate his late parents which quickly goes off the rails.

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Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman and Jeni Hacker in a scene from Larsen’s “The Actors” at Theatre Row (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Playwright and actor Ronnie Larsen, best known for his series of erotic plays with titles like Making Porn and Sleeping with Straight Men, has now switched to a charmingly humorous Neil Simon-like sitcom. The Actors, which previously appeared in Florida and Utah, offers a premise with a lot of potential. While the acting is rather uneven, Stuart Meltzer’s direction is smooth and fast paced so that the play moves along at a fast clip making the lines seem funnier than they are. Much of the humor comes from references to long running television shows of the past like The Love Boat and The Six Million Dollar Man, the ones that might represent your childhood.

Having suffered a depression during the last 12 years when his mother died and then his father passed away three years later, Ronnie  decides to hire actors to impersonate his parents a couple of times a week allowing him to go back to his happy childhood and create a family. The hired actors throw themselves into their roles going so far as to bring in another actor to play Ronnie’s brother Jay.

Jeni Hacker, Gabriell Salgado, Ronnie Larsen and Allen Lewis Rickman in a scene from Larsen’s “The Actors” at Theatre Row (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

At the point when this starts to get out of hand with the actors taking the lead and actually moving in, his real brother Jay whom he has not seen in nine years shows up from Reno for a conference and is startled by Ronnie’s current living arrangement. Knowing the truth of their childhoods, he is shocked at the lies that Ronnie has told to his actors playing his family. The second half of the play turns serious when it turns out that Ronnie’s acting therapy has mostly been wish fulfillment, and that the reality was quite different. While the tonal shift is sudden, the ending is quite satisfying.

As Ronnie, Larsen gives a big oversized performance in the manner of Jackie Gleason, but lacking in nuance. Jeni Hacker and Allen Lewis Rickman are rather glib and artificial as the actors hired to play Ronnie’s parents with Hacker being the more immersed of the two. As the fake brother, Gabriell Salgado is amusing as the male juvenile who takes his role almost too seriously. Jason Guy as the real Jay adds a note of reality to the proceedings.

Jeni Hacker, Ronnie Larsen, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jason Guy and Gabriell Salgado in a scene from Larsen’s “The Actors” at Theatre Row (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

The unit set by Stone Dog Studio incorporating a living room/kitchen and separate bedroom in shades of gray is perfectly appropriate to the needs of the story. Laura Turnbull’s contemporary costumes are completely suited to the characters. The lighting by Leonardo Urbina is kept at the bright level of most one-set comedies.

While the sitcom nature of The Actors keeps it from being a real investigation into grief-management, it remains an entertaining evening of theater. A lighthearted comedy which eventually turns serious when the truth is revealed, The Actors is the kind of old-fashioned stage farce that hardly anyone writes anymore since it has mainly moved to television. Director Stuart Meltzer always keeps the play engrossing and surprising, while the cast of five is totally absorbed by their roles.

The Actors (through June 1, 2024)

Plays of Wilton, Inc. (POW)

Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.theactorsplay.com

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

1 Comment on The Actors

  1. Theresa Jaffe // May 22, 2024 at 9:43 pm // Reply

    This play sounds like it has an interesting plot.

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