Pictured: Victor Raider-Wexler in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. Photo by Mike Tsai
PerformInk takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Sheryl Mos
As a Special Education teacher, I teach students how to write an essay out of an interview they may have conducted with a grandparent or a fellow student. I can show students how to write an effective introduction, cite their sources, package the whole thing up in MLA format, and turn it in on Google Classroom. None of this prepared me for my task over the course of the summer. As part of an externship between the Independence School District and the Kansas City Actors Theater, I found myself with the daunting task of interviewing one of the leads in their upcoming production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Moon for the Misbegotten,” a play I’d neither read nor even heard of prior to Monday of that week. I dutifully read the play, banged out a few cursory questions about the character Phil Hogan, an Irish Tenant farmer in 1920s Connecticut who, along with his daughter, Josie, is faced with possible eviction from their home.
After showing my questions to my KCAT Director of Marketing and Development Matt Sameck, he gave me the fateful news- not only would my questions be read and answered by the actor playing Hogan, Mr. Victor Raider-Wexler, but he had also graciously offered to drop by
and allow me to interview him in person.
With my nerves kicking into gear, I opened the laptop and did a little research. Credit after credit of television (“The Wonder Years,” “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond”) film, (“Minority Report”) and voice work for advertising campaigns and video games, as well as animated work- I was getting intimidated. I can face down a whole classroom of high schoolers, but this guy is the real deal! I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, and when Thursday rolled around, I skipped lunch for fear of losing it.
I needn’t have worked myself up. Mr. Raider-Wexler is a very personable man who immediately put me at ease. He introduced himself, gave me a firm handshake, and then we sat and traded stories for two hours. Raider-Wexler recounted several brushes with famous people himself, so he understood my starstruck trepidation at interviewing him. He shared stories about seeing “Bobby” Dylan in Greenwich Village in the early sixties before anyone really know who he was, and then once again a year later, in the first flushes of Dylan’s fame, when he introduced a then-unknown Joan Baez. Also, a few of his own encounters with famous playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and William Saroyan (“The Time of Your Life”) lent him empathy
for my nervous state. “I was so nervous when I met Williams, I couldn’t even get a sentence together,” he recalls.
Our meeting felt nothing like what I would expect from an interview. He went so far as to tell me about his Elementary School experience and how he got into acting in the fifth grade when he starred that year as Ebenezer Scrooge in the school’s production of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” directed by his teacher at the time Mrs. Brock. A similar mentor was his ninth grade drama teacher, Frances Imogene Griffin. “Miss Griffin took me over. It started with a class where we did radio plays, and I was hooked. There were some semesters I had two of her
After high school, Raider-Wexler spent an eye-opening summer as a boardwalk carnival barker in Florida and returned to the University of Toledo where he met Dr. Norma Stolzenbach, who taught theatre and radio and was head of the University Theatre. Teachers were so influential to Raider-Wexler that he confided to me that he had even tried his hand at teaching for a year himself. It was Dr. Stolzenbach who guided him to a fellowship opportunity to Tulane University, to get his Master’s and Doctorate degrees. He was all set on the path- and then he swerved and left the fellowship behind.
“She was pretty disappointed in me, I think. I went on to New York with some other college kids to get work, and I pretty much starved for a while. I did some Marionette work there, and some non-Equity work for a while.” He supplemented his income as an office temp. This was the early sixties- one promising role was for a play set to open on November 22, 1963. “If you know your history,” he said with a resigned air, “You know that was not a good date for our nation.”
Due to the Kennedy assassination and subsequent National Day of Mourning, opening night was delayed, and the show closed after only a week. He was, however, able to obtain his equity card and stay on in New York, after three years in “starving actor”/office temp-mode. It was at this point in the conversation when I realized Raider-Wexler must be about my father’s age, and that he’d been in New York during a very exciting time period. When I
mentioned this, he smiled slyly. “You won’t find my real age- all the websites have it wrong; I’ve been deliberately misleading.”
Raider-Wexler has had a varied career since those early days, ranging from stage (Broadway credits include “Gypsy,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) to television, (“Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “The King of Queens”) to film, (“Minority Report,” “The Pursuit of Happyness’), to advertising (most notably as the as the official voice of General Motors “Mark of Excellence” campaign,) to video game voice acting (“The Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim’). He mentioned a recent trip to Moscow. When I shook my head and said with a smile, “You really have been everywhere.” He said modestly, “No, I haven’t.”
So, how, I wondered, does somebody go from New York to Hollywood and end up here on the Kansas City Stage?
Raider-Wexler’s wife at the time was pursuing a degree in medicine, and the family came to the Kansas City area so she could attend school. Upon moving to the Midwest, Raider-Wexler thought that he was retired from acting, but then an old connection brought about a new artistic
“A while back I was doing a play in Milwaukee called ‘Dance of Death,’ and we had these interns who were the understudies. I started working, and my understudy hadn’t showed up yet. And then one day, in comes walking tall this kid with a full head of wavy dark hair understudying for me, if you can believe that. And I’m playing this hideous old Captain, a delightfully fun role. Well, that was John Rensenhouse. He’s the one who eventually introduced
me to Kansas City Actors Theater.” Rensenhouse would later direct “Glengarry Glen Ross” for KCAT in 2009 and felt Raider-Wexler would be a perfect fit for beleaguered salesman Shelley Levene. He auditioned, and was cast. Raider-Wexler would go on appear in several KCAT productions and become a member of the company’s governing board and artistic committee.
Since his move to Kansas City, Raider-Wexler has appeared in KCAT productions such as “I’m Not Rappaport,” “The Gin Game,” “The Mousetrap,” “The Real Inspector Hound,” and “The Seafarer.” He has also performed at the KCRep as Marley in “A Christmas Carol” and in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and at the New Theater in “You Can’t Take it With You,” “Murder Among Friends,” and “Harvey.” Which brings us back to “Moon for the Misbegotten” and our crusty Irish Tenant farmer.
At the time of our interview, Raider-Wexler was working on finding Phil Hogan’s voice. “His Donegal accent is a very specific Irish accent. There is a line in the play in which another character refers to him as the ‘King of Donegal,’ so I want to get that right.” I asked him if he was finding it challenging coming up with ways to get the audience to like his character. “Why does he have to be likable? I just want them to be able to track with him as he
goes through emotions and interactions with his daughter and others. You don’t have to like him to find him interesting. Some of the best characters are not likable at all!”
Having met Raider-Wexler in person, it is hard to imagine him as “un-likable,” despite his long history of paying gruff doctors and lawyers. Miss Griffin and Dr. Stolzenbach were certainly prescient in guiding this larger-than-life presence toward the stage. I admit, I take a little professional pride in the knowledge that it was two teachers who started it all.
Now with children of his own, two of his three daughters have followed him into the arts. One daughter is moving to LA soon to pursue film production, and his youngest is already interested in dance. “When she went to see ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet in her little tutu, she had a complete meltdown when she found out she wasn’t going to be performing! ‘Watching is BORING!’, she said!” One thing is for certain, watching Raider-Wexler bring Phil Hogan to life will not be.
Victor Raider-Wexler can currently be seen in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” at the City Stage in Union Station through September 30th. For more information visit kcactors.org.