Merritt Olsen may be growing a mustache and perfecting his French accent, but his days of being a ladies man are “long behind.”
That is except for on the stage.
Starting Thursday, Oct. 6, at the San Juan Community Theatre, you can see Olsen, the theater’s director, as Dr. Hercule Molineaux who tells “one, tiny, little, hardly noticeable lie” to cover an innocent but embarrassing indiscretion in “The Ladies Man.”
From that single untruth tumbles a cascade of increasingly convoluted deceptions, misunderstandings and mistaken identities.
This is only the second play Merritt has performed in at the theater since he moved here 11 years ago.
Several years ago, Olsen performed as Senex in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” because the original actor had to leave the play for an emergency.
This time, Merritt purposely sought out the role as a French physician Molineaux.
“I’ve been wanting to do the play for a couple years because I thought it was hilarious,” said Olsen. “And I thought it was a great role, so why not act in it too.”
Olsen has been a professional actor and stage director since 1969 with credits including regional theatre, Off-Off Broadway, national tours, television, film and numerous radio and television commercials.
He has taught acting at colleges and universities, and at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, Calif.
But stepping back on stage after a long absence, made him wonder if he could still do it.
“Anytime you put yourself out there and do something you don’t do everyday, you’re taking a risk,” said Olsen.
Director Chris Jorie said Olsen is brilliant in the play.
“This is a huge role,” said Jorie. “He’s on every page and Merritt hasn’t lost a step.”
Jorie, a 35-year theater, film, television veteran and avid outdoorsman from Southern California, “jumped at the chance” to direct a play on San Juan Island.
“I’m thinking we could all use some really good laughter in our lives,” said Jorie. “We refer to the physical comedy in the second act as the romp, which is seven minutes of running around the room. It’s so much fun to watch. It’s also a lot of work, Merritt may need a vacation after this.”
Rehearsing on the stage night after night has reminded Olsen of the numerous volunteers that help create every show.
“I think it’s important as an executive/artistic director to be reminded what our volunteers — especially those who have full-time jobs — go through to get a production up and running,” said Olsen. “It’s a very humbling experience.”
The cast includes a suspicious wife played by Penelope Haskew, a frightening mother-in-law played by Deb Langhans, an outrageously aggressive patient played by Susan Williams, her violently jealous husband John Davis, a well-intentioned friend with a lisp played by Bo Turnage, a valet with attitude played by Mason Turnage, a maid with a secret played by Shannon Kelley and more slamming doors than you can count.
The actors, the costumes, and lavish set have also reminded Olsen of why he got into theater in the first place.
“As a kid I didn’t like myself very much,” said Olsen standing in his tuxedo under the theater’s bright lights. “I was drawn to theater to be someone else and here I am.”