By Gary Wien
Alan Rachins recently finished the fifth and final year of the hit television show, "Dharma & Greg" where he played the hippie father, Larry Finklestein. Before that he had a long-running role as attorney Douglas Brackman on "L.A. Law." In addition to his television work, Alan has been in several films and theatrical productions across the country. He is currently starring in the world premiere play, "Attacks on a Heart" playing by George Street Playhouse. Alan spoke to me via phone before one of his rehearsals.
What attracted you to the play Attacks on a Heart?
Many things. First of all, I was looking to do a play. Secondly, it requires a lot. It's beautifully written, it's by Arthur Laurents and it's a world premiere. It is an opportunity to reinvent and work at your craft, to grow and take a big challenge. It's scary... It's a two-character play.
So, there was a challenge and there was an opportunity to do something very different from what I've been doing for the last few years on "Dharma & Greg." I mean this came along and you look at it and say, "this is a mountain... this is worth climbing; this is something that's a challenge and exciting, so that's where you go.
What is the biggest challenge in moving from a television series back to live theatre?
Well, this is big in the sense that this is the other extreme because we are on the stage at all times. We've got a lot to do. We've got a lot of work ahead of us and so it's a huge challenge in that regard. If this was like a six-character play, I don't know that it would feel as such an extreme change from one to another. But, here we are - the two of us - it's kind of like a trapeze act without a net. The world outside has not really existed since we started rehearsals. It's been a hundred percent, a thousand percent focused on this... And it's been great!
What is it like to have a role in a world premiere play?
It gives you a great responsibility to create this character. That's something you appreciate and look forward to.
You've acted everywhere from New York stages to regional performances. What do you think is the biggest difference between a New York staged play and one that is produced regionally?
I don't look at it that way at all. The big difference, as far as I'm concerned, is that the media gives one much more attention than the other. But I don't happen to think that just because a production is away from "The Great White Way" that it's necessarily any less than ones that are. Some may be and some may be better. So, it's really the media attention because as far as an actor goes, our work is our work regardless of where it is.
And more and more plays have premieres outside of New York...
Well, that's the whole economics... There's so few plays and they basically go into New York with things that are more proven these days. So, if it has a world premiere and it does well than they can consider bringing it to New York because it will already have a reputation and they know how it connects to the audience.
Is that something you consider when you choose a run? Do you think about how far or where the play may go?
This is just this. Who knows if it will have a life or what kind of life it will have after that. It's not really a consideration. It's just something to do in and of itself and whatever happens, happens.
In addition to your work on "Dharma & Greg" you also had a long-running role on "L.A. Law" which was a very different character from Larry. Has taking such varied roles helped you from being typecast in a certain type of role?
I hope so because I love the idea of playing different characters and I wouldn't want to be stuck doing the same thing all of the time. That's one of the great things about "Dharma & Greg", it really allowed me to do something different.
But who knows? You just do the next thing that comes along and do the best with it you can and see what happens. It's a crapshoot and you can't really exert control.
You originally went to the Wharton School of Finance, what led you to an acting career?
I had a very domineering father. I didn't get to express myself around him and I guess I saw this as a means of being able to express myself. And when I saw Rebel Without A Cause, which was a movie I saw with my father when I was eleven - James Dean, at one point in that movie, yelled at his father. And it all came together for me. Somehow, this was a way to just completely express everything that's inside of you that's been bottled up.
In addition to acting, you have also been involved with the writing and directing aspects of the business as well. How has that helped you?
I have. I went to the American Film Institute for two years during some time off at one point. And that definitely helped me a great deal because it kind of demystified all of the equipment.
I'm interested in both sides. It helped me to see myself more as part of the process. It was a good thing to take that time off and do that.
Do you have any plans set up for after this run or will you be reading new scripts?
Every time I've done a play in the past, it always gives you something enormouse inside you. It's hard to be able to predict what's going to happen next because you come away from a play with something more inside of you that allows for other things to happen. And you don't know what they are. It just allows for a different kind of energy to come in and move you to the next place.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.