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May 07 2024
Parental Care: A Review Of Ronnie Larsen's THE ACTORS Comments (0)

Ronnie Larsen  Allen Lewis Rickamn  Jeni HackerA twisted family album (Images by Russ Rowland)

Ronnie Larsen's play The Actors is one of those comic plays that starts with a situation so ridiculous it's almost hard to know how to react to it, then builds into hilarity. Yet it also surprises by, more often than not, exploring the more bittersweet aspects of the story's unique set of circumstances.

Based on Larsen's real-life grief over the loss of his parents, The Actors asks what would happen if a bereaved man (played by Larsen himself, lending to the show's meta quality) hired a pair of actors to play his departed parents for a few hours a week, just to help rekindle the warm feelings of a familial bond.

Fortunately for Larsen — yes, that is the character's name, too — and for the play, the first two actors who show up for the well-paid job resemble and easily conjure up his parents as he remembers them. Jeni Hacker plays a married mom who is at first reluctant to take on such a weird project, only to hilariously psych herself up and into it — way into it. It's been too long since she's had a meaty role, and she throws herself into this one.

Meanwhile, her husb— er, scene partner — arrives in the form of an even more down-on-his-luck thesp played by Allen Lewis Rickman. If Mom is professional, Dad is downright desperate. Together, they conspire to give Ronnie everything he wants ... and more.

As with all families, real or imaginary, factual or fact-based, the trio experiences emotional growing pains. Ronnie is at first delighted to play a child enveloped in his parents' love, but soon becomes uncomfortable. See, the weird situation just gets ... weird, especially as Mom embraces her part and Dad embraces not only his part, but his role as head of the household. It doesn't help that both actors eventually seek to move in for real.

Jeni Hacker  Gabriell Salgado  Allen Lewis RickmanThe brother he always knew he had

Later on, a two-fold wrinkle arrives in the form of an unannounced new cast member — an actor playing Ronnie's brother Jay (Gabriell Salgado). By the time, his actual brother Jay (Jason Guy) shows up, Ronnie is as confused as anyone he's hired.

The Actors has many strongpoints, including a series of witty insights about the theater and the play-acting in which all families engage, but its secret weapon is Hacker, whose performance is crisply realized, both emotionally and gesturally. At every turn, she elevates already solid material. More importantly, she's funny as hell. Rickman is also delightful, and an expert at tugging heartstrings subtly while milking the humor from his character's broader strokes.

The play could be pared down — two acts feels excessive — though it isn't until the second act that we get to enjoy the expert interplay between the real Jay and the fake Jay. Still, The Actors is a consistently interesting, sometimes nakedly sentimental, tribute to grief and undying love.

The Actors runs May 8-June 1 at Theatre Row's Theatre 4 (410 W. 42 St., NYC) — information here.