Pictured: Victor Raider-Wexler in the first rehearsal for St. Nicholas. Photo courtesy of KCAT.
Victor Raider-Wexler has carved out an impressive career. After starting with theatre in New York many years ago, he made numerous memorable appearances on a variety of sitcoms in the 90’s and 2000’s, including “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.” He appeared in Stephen Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” and the Will Smith movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” After moving to Kansas City, he appeared with many area theatre companies, including The New Theatre. His appearances with the Kansas City Actors Theatre include “The Gin Game,” “I’m Not Rappaport,” “And Then There Were None,” “Morning’s at Seven,” and others. This month, he’ll be starring in Conor McPherson’s “St.
Nicholas,” a one-man show where a washed-up theatre critic regales an audience with the semi-comic tragedy of his fall from grace through obsession and into the arms of a coven of vampires.
How did this production come up?
Years ago, it was done by Paul Orwick at the Irish Center in Union Station. I saw it, and I loved it! I’ve been suggesting it for years, and this year we were looking for a fifth show outside of our season, and a few things didn’t work out, and I said, “How about this for a suggestion? One actor. No set. Put it in any place.” And our Artistic Committee voted to do it. It’s a passion project of mine. It came, as things do, walking between raindrops.
What drew you to this show?
It is unlike most one-person shows. Many of them have you play different characters, or there are events that take place. Conor McPherson, in his youth, just wrote these narratives where a person tells a story. You think, “Is that going to be boring?” But the idea is that it tells a story – and it is quite a story: theatre criticism, sexual obsession, and vampires. I mean, come on! What better story can there be? And then, it is full of intelligence. It is full of poetry. The guy can write. And to cap it all off – years ago I did a McPherson play for Kansas City Actors Theatre called “The Seafarer” – and it was the same thing. I had no idea what it was about going in, and it unfolded in rehearsal. I was the Devil, and it turned out that I discovered that the Devil is a very redemptive creature. Now here’s a play with vampires, and they’re not done carelessly – he’s not just spinning a yarn – he’s a deeply-moral, intelligent, poetic playwright.
What challenges have you run into in the rehearsal process?
I wonder: How willing is an audience to sit and listen to one person? As we’re staging it, I’m not up much. But so far I’m finding during rehearsal that it’s alive – you can feel it. I’ve asked that starting soon we bring in fresh eyes every so often. I’m talking right to the audience. It’s all, “you and me.” I need somebody who hasn’t heard it, but I’ve discovered in my career that anything that gets a good laugh in rehearsal-after-rehearsal, is not funny. That’s a room laugh. The best audience laugh is always unexpected. The other thing I’ve learned through the course of my career is that I learn more from audiences in three days than I do from rehearsal in three weeks. They teach you. You just have to give yourself to the audience. The audience really participates in live theatre, it’s the huge difference between live theatre and every other form of performing art. The audience is in there. I think the difference between performers that I adore and ones that are simply “good” is that the ones I adore hook in the audience so that they and the audience are doing it together.
What has surprised you about this show?
First of all: I’m surprised that I’m being allowed to do it! Somebody says “yes” and it’s on! And then the chairman of the Artistic Committee (John Rensenhouse) is my Stage Manager and the owner of the New Theatre (Dennis Hennessy) is my Director, and Forrest Attaway, who runs a company of his own has volunteered to assist. I’ve got the best people in the world. I just feel very lucky. The big thing that I haven’t gotten before is the depth of meaning. You can do this show on the “I’m going to spin a good yarn” level, but it’s not just that. As a matter of fact, what it’s about is not at all obvious. Of any shows I’ve ever done, this is the one that will lend itself most to people going out afterward, having a cup of coffee, and talking and talking about, “What did I just see?” The script itself surprises you. It seems like you’re just hearing a story, but then you have to stop and say, “Oh, wait…” Here’s a clue: When one person tells you the whole thing, like this, he’s the narrator and the storyteller, and he’s not always reliable. When you read a book that says, in the third person, “it was raining,” then it was raining! But in the first person if he says it was raining, it’s only that he says it was raining. When Huckleberry Finn tells you the story in his book, you have to read between the lines and know that what he tells you is happening is through his eyes, and it’s not necessarily what’s actually happening. And so it is that this man, who is your only source of information, might himself not know what’s going on. He tells you he does, but McPherson may feel he doesn’t. So afterwards you have to ask, “What was I told that’s true, and what was I told that may not be as true?” We don’t know how much of this is in his mind, and how much is not. (It should be noted that the play is named for a well-known British mental institution.)
What have you been most excited about?
I’ve never done a one-man show. I’ve taken on something that has a heroic dimension in what an actor attempts to do. From the first line on nobody gives me a cue. I’m out there by myself with nobody to save me.
What do you want the audience to come away with after seeing the show?
If I’m right about it, they’ll leave with a sense of wonder. There will have been questions asked in the early parts of the show, markers that are put out that I hope are satisfied, but you won’t see them being satisfied until the whole thing is over. I do think there will be people who will say, “I wish I could see it again, knowing what I know now.” Early on in the process, I was doing what all actors know not to do in that I was being explicit in my interpretation. I was trying to make sure you heard the words that I wanted you to hear, and that you “got it.” And I’m learning – don’t do that. I’m going to try not to show you the play – I’m just going to let it be. Let it spill out, and hope that I don’t f&%# it up.
Victor Raider-Wexler can be seen in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of Conor McPherson’s “St. Nicholas” from March 11 – 29 at The Buffalo Room, located in the Westport Flea Market at 817 Westport Road in Kansas City. Seating is very limited and tables will be assigned on a first-purchased, first-sat basis. Tickets are available at kcactors.org or by calling