The Barkeep Who Made it to Broadway

 

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He left the next morning, and nine months later was auditioning in Manhattan, arriving at 5:30 a.m. to be first in line, and, for the first time, taking acting classes. Within two years, he had landed the lead in Bobby Dogs and a place in the road production of Twelve Angry Men, serving as understudy to several characters, including the one played by George Wendt of “Cheers” fame. When Wendt left the show after the first season, the cast lobbied director Scott Ellis on behalf of Boland, who took over the part.  Then came Mockingbird—thanks to Richard Thomas, who had recommended him to director Michael Wilson—and, this past fall, a shot at a character actor’s dream: Horton Foote’s nine-play, multigenerational saga of family life in small-town Texas called The Orphan’s Home Cycle.

Foote died in March 2009, at age 92, before he could see his magnum opus staged. But the work is currently enjoying an extended, sold-out run off-Broadway—reviewing Part I of the cycle, New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it “the great adventure of this theater season”—with Wilson directing and Boland cast in three roles. In two of them he plays alcoholics, one as the husband of Hallie Foote’s character.

All of which calls into question whether Mike Boland has a career beyond playing alcoholics.

“Well, of course he does,” Wilson says. “The great thing about Mike is that he finds the humanity in characters and he’s got great comic ability, and not all actors have that. He doesn’t reach for the laugh, he just plays the truth of  the situation. And he’s also got patience, and in our business? . . . hahaha. It’s a very hard quality to find and you can’t survive without it.”

Boland’s current stint off-Broadway hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who’ve worked with him in the past.

“It’s exactly what should be happening,” notes actor Richard Thomas. “There’s a place for an actor like Mike. He’s a good character man. As actors we use our life stories—that’s what we do. We have nothing to bring to the work but who we are.”
Adds director Doug Hughes, “He’s always working on something good, and he’s always working well on something good, and I think he’s building his reputation every time he goes to work.”

Yet no one is more awed by Mike Boland’s success than his family and old friends—most notably his father, who was on hand to see him in the opening of The Orphan’s Home Cycle. “He’s one of those old-school guys who have trouble expressing their feelings, but he was in tears after seeing the performance,” Boland says. “I think it was something that finally surpassed his John Wayne movies. Whenever I run into his old buddies, they say, ‘Your dad can’t stop talking about you.’”

Nor can friend Annie Williamson, who has known him since freshman year in high school, when they dated briefly, and who witnessed his darkest hours. “Quite honestly, we thought he was going to die,” she says. Williamson and her husband, a college friend of Boland’s, have seen every play he’s been in since Cuckoo’s Nest in 1994. “I can remember sitting in that theater and looking at my husband and saying, ‘You know what? If he can get his crap together, we’re going to see him on Broadway one day,’” she says. “And now I want to cry every time I think about it.”

Next fall, The Orphan’s Home Cycle will make the transition from to Broadway. And in the way that art imitates life, Mike Boland will have come full circle. In Part III, he plays Monty Reeves, a newly rich oil baron and the only one of his characters who isn’t alcoholic. “I get to play a man who, if he takes a drink, drinks socially,” he laughs. “And that’s the hardest part for me to play!”

The Barkeep Who Made it to Broadway

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