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Strangis has "Luv" for the Stage

by Jason Rademan / Dallas Stars

The acting bug has bitten Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer Ralph Strangis again. Before he resumes his position alongside analyst Daryl Reaugh on the Dallas Stars’ radio and television simulcasts this upcoming season, Strangis will take part in Theatre Coppell’s production of the quirky comedy, “Luv.”

Strangis was featured along with Theatre Coppell president and stage veteran Gary Walters in last summer’s production of “Rounding Third,” and that duo is joined by Laurie McDonald in this year’s three-person performance.

The story revolves around three lonely souls who play a game of relationship “musical chairs” as they search for what they think is true love. Harry Berlin, a beatnik who has wandered aimlessly through life since college, finally decides to ‘end it all’ by jumping from a bridge, but is saved by his old college classmate, Milt Manville. As they compare their miseries since the good old college days, Milt hatches a scheme to palm off his wife, Ellen, on Harry so he can marry a new girlfriend. The plan seems to work, but then this convoluted love triangle unravels amid chaos and hilarity as the three realize that life, like love, doesn’t always work out the way you plan.

Getting to this show has been a journey for the actors. Strangis was able to use his time off during the NHL lockout in 2005 to explore his penchant for acting and the live stage. Now in his third show with , he is becoming more comfortable onstage, while continuing to branch out with more complex characters.

“I initially became involved with Theatre Coppell because I cherished my high school stage experience and wanted to do it again,” said Strangis, who is set to enter his 18th year in the Stars broadcast booth this fall. “As I continue to do this, I find out how much I don’t know about acting and I also have discovered how tremendously difficult this is and how much work there is to it.”

Strangis’ first foray on the stage was as the cockney husband of his current co-star Laurie McDonald in the British farce, “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Strangis saw this smaller role as a good way to get his “stage legs” under him again.

Strangis and Walters in 2006's "Rounding Third."
“In ‘Rounding Third,’ my character was a widower who was raising his stepson and decided to become his Little League baseball coach,” Strangis stated. “It was a completely different experience playing more of a ‘real-life’ character rather than a caricature. It took a lot of inner focus and I really found myself getting into character. The concentration necessary for walking onto the intimate stage at  and staying focused for two hours is tremendous. I saw some small growth as an actor with that role.”

Strangis’ character in “Luv,” Milt Manville, is somewhat of a hybrid, “a cross between Herb Tarlek, the sales guy in WKRP in Cincinnati and Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s ‘not so slick but fairly slimy’ Mike Damone.” Strangis sees this character more demanding to play than either of his previous roles, because it’s an “odd” fictional character he must bring to life and make believable.

“This is really hard and I’m learning things everyday,” said Strangis. “Let’s say I started as a zero on a scale of one to 10 as an actor, well now I’m at a three and my max might be a five. It’s like someone who takes up golf. You know you’re never going to be good enough for the PGA Tour, but you can get good enough to really enjoy it and learn some things from it. It’s such a totally different profession than the one I’m in, and from how I say every single line to character development, it’s a very nerve-wracking situation.”

Walters’s journey to this production began 28 years ago on the stage at Texas Tech, when he did this very show as a one-act play.

“When (director) George Morrow said he was considering doing ‘Luv,’ I looked through my college papers and found the script I used way back when. As I started reading it, I was amazed at how much of the dialogue I still remembered. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember obscure play dialogue from nearly three decades ago!”

Later, Walters learned that his wife saw that show and considered him the funniest guy, and soon after, they began dating and later were married. Walters definitely sees the irony in that situation.

“It makes you wonder about yourself when someone falls in love with a neurotic, suicidal nut like my character,” joked Walters. “I’m hoping it just means I’m a really good actor.”

 stage veteran Laurie McDonald completes this convoluted love triangle, after having been married to both Ralph and Gary in previous Theatre Coppell productions. In “Luv,” she actually marries both of them!

“Despite my two previous appearances with Ralph and Gary, as well as assistant directing ‘Rounding Third,’ I never know what to expect with these two,” said McDonald of her co-stars. “They constantly entertain me with their antics and comedic talents, and I’m very proud to be a part of the absurdity.”

“Gary is a really good actor and I really believe he is who he’s playing onstage,” said Strangis. “If I’m good enough for him to believe I’m that other character, you have moments when you really feel it working, not unlike what Razor and I do. With Laurie, I have to make out with her onstage a couple times, so it’s helpful to have a relationship and that I’ve known her for a while.”

Director George Morrow has now directed Strangis in three shows and says that he continues to develop as an actor.

“Ralph continues to show that he can handle ever more complex characters,” said Morrow. “His character in ‘Luv’ is probably the most challenging; it’s not the ‘normal guy’ role like in ‘Rounding Third,’ but more of an over the top, slick con man. Making that type of character believable is a challenge, but Ralph seems to understand how to do it. In fact all of the actors do, and that promises to result in a very funny play.”

With 17 years in front of the microphone of Stars broadcasts and two plays under his belt, Strangis still admits that he’s extremely nervous about the upcoming production. However, the thrill of acting has him confident and anxious for the curtains to rise. 

“The only thing I ever get nervous about with my play-by-play job is the team, the magnitude of the game, basically the things I can’t control in hockey,” said Strangis. “But I’ve done it so much that I’ve learned to handle some of those things. Acting is so tough from start to finish, because you have to overcome fear and get over how uncomfortable it is. I want to keep challenging myself with new things and this is so rewarding. There’s no feeling in the world like getting it right and I can’t wait to get going with this.”

The play opens on Friday, August 17 and runs for two weekends, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. The shows will be held at the Coppell Center for the Arts, 157 S. Moore Road in Coppell. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for seniors and students and are available online at Reservations can also be made online or by calling the box office at 972-745-7719.
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