The dark Irish comedy The Seafarer, now playing as the second offering in the Unicorn Theatre’s 2010-2011 season, features veteran New York, Hollywood and now Kansas City actor Victor Raider-Wexler. Chiefly known for his numerous TV roles in, among others, Seinfeld, King of Queens, Law & Order, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Raider-Wexler is equally at home onstage, having begun his performing career in the theater. Voice work and the occasional film role fills out the Midwest native’s resume.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Victor in a wide-ranging interview about his life and performance career. “I found it kind of interesting how I wound up in (acting), because I didn’t have it in my (family) background,” he begins.
Elementary and high school plays began the Toledo, Ohio native’s performance career, including, significantly, a course in radio production. Though slightly anachronistic (radio dramas were a thing of the past at the time, although the school did include an FM station), it most likely helped the young Raider-Wexler develop one of his trademark performing qualities—his voice. His rich basso profundo, which he manipulates adroitly, has led to numerous vocal jobs in video games and animated shows, including American Dad.
After high school, Raider-Wexler attended the University of Toledo, where he acted in almost every University production but wound up majoring in English Literature. After college, he “just went off on the seat of my pants to New York. I was really a Midwestern kid who knew nothin’...didn’t know about photos and resumes and trade papers—I read the New York Times want ads looking for actor jobs.” Ironically this method did lead to a paying job, which he booked because of his low voice and ability to do an evil laugh.
Although Raider-Wexler admits that he “lived very thin in all my early years in New York—you know lentils and shoe leather,” eventually, good paying work did arrive, much of it in out-of-town companies where shows included several Shakespeare plays. National dinner theater networks also provided several jobs, including the role of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a role he was shifted into after being originally cast as Goober—again, because of his deep voice.
The latter show was produced by Bill McHale, for whom Raider-Wexler worked steadily, including the role of Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. Although he doesn’t consider himself a singer, per se, he says he “learned how to do a song, and I learned how to have a musical career out of it…’Rich Man’? I can do a great ‘Rich Man.’”
Tevya was a breakthrough role for Raider-Wexler, not only in terms of what he was paid, but because it gained him roles in several more musicals, including at Milwaukee’s legendary but now-shuttered summer tent theater “Melody-Top.”
A role in another musical, the touring company of Grand Hotel, let him to Los Angeles, where he quickly booked a role in the TV series The Wonder Years and then for a newer NBC show, Seinfeld. “Why did I book it?” Raider-Wexler explains when asked about the roles he played for the hit show, “Because in (the play) Six Degrees of Separation I played a doctor who stood and talked about being a doctor. Hollywood’s imagination is such that they had seen me in Six Degrees be a doctor, this role was a doctor, so they hired the doctor. The first couple of years in L.A. what did I play—doctors, doctors and doctors. Later I played lawyers and then it became judges.”
Roles for Judging Amy, King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond soon followed, keeping Raider-Wexler well occupied during his L.A. years. But his then-wife, a real-life doctor, had received a second-year residency at KU Med and didn’t want the couple’s two daughters to live in two cities. So Raider-Wexler made the decision in June of 2007 to return the Midwest, where both daughters now attend Johnson County schools.
“This community has such great talent,” he says about the Kansas City area, where he is now represented by the Exposure Agency. After seeing a show at the Unicorn Theater, he was encouraged to audition for one of their productions. Some of the cast members of The Seafarer—which includes David Fritts, Stuart Rider, Allan L. Boardman and Dean Vivian—Raider-Wexler had worked with in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Kansas City Actors Theater, with whom the Unicorn is co-producing the current work.
“The key is that I just love being in the theater,” Raider-Wexler says in summing up his life’s work. “I much, much prefer being in the theater to being in front of a camera—this collaboration with the actors, and the collaboration with the audience—what a way to spend a life.”
The Seafarer will play on the Unicorn’s Jerome Stage located at 3828 Main Street, Kansas City through Nov. 7. Call the theater at (816) 531-PLAY (7529), or visit the theater’s website at unicorntheatre.org.