Encore Michigan

‘The Actors’ brings dramedy to family and healing

Review April 08, 2022 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, MI–Ronnie Larsen’s  new play, The Actors, presented by The Penny Seats here, might also be called Irony.

The premise is that Ronnie (Brandy Joe Plambeck) is a lonesome 38-year old bachelor still emotionally unsettled a decade after his parents died. He has a hole in his life he has not figured out how to fill. He gets an idea of auditioning actors to play his Mother (Diane Hill) and Father (Robert Schorr), who will come in for four hours or so a week so he can travel back to his childhood–even donning fleece Superman pajamas. The irony unfolds when the plot of who needs who in this contrivance gets turned on its head.

The play has a sadness at the start as Ronnie seems a bit equal parts of desperate and odd. But as the story unfolds and makes you think about family, with their ups and downs, hope builds with an appreciation of what Ronnie is trying to do and his somewhat unconventional approach to coping and healing.

Ronnie’s childhood was clearly not perfect. He was not the favorite son. His parents were religious conservatives. And Ronnie states plainly he is an atheist. What exactly is he missing? What is he searching for in his small twin bed with hired strangers playing his parents?

I won’t give a spoiler, but in the second act, the source of Ronny’s angst and emptiness rolls out of the script when his brother (Jeffrey Miller) arrives in a surprise visit from the west coast and discovers an actor (David Collins) playing him, right down to identical shirt and trousers.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the story is that families are what they are, and must be accepted…or not. Families are made, but they are also chosen. Family members cannot be moved like chess pieces. And while families can, in fact, by pruned like a Bonzai tree based on who one wants to stay connected with and who they want to leave behind, any attempts to prune an individual to shape them the way you wish they would be…will result in frustration or worse. Also, there is more than one way to grieve and heal, and we should probably just support a wide bandwidth for that with the people in our lives.

Directed by Joe Bailey and produced by Lauren London, the performances by a cast of extremely strong actors, do wonders to illuminate powerful themes of family love, grieving and reconciliation, with useful laughs and lightness, as well as the awkward pain of family relationships. The story and script, while imaginative and unlocking some powerful ideas and emotions, sometimes feels a tad flabby, and I would look forward to a further honing and possible shortening–the run time was a bit over two hours with a ten-minute intermission.

Family…can’t live with them…can’t live without them. As much as we may try.

Sound design by Kennikki Jones-Jones. Set Design by Jennifer Maiseloff. Lighting Design by TyChi. Costumes by Vince Kelley. Props and Set-build by Tim Pollack.

Click here for tickets and more info on the show.

Week of 3/20/2023

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