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Boston actor jets in to save ‘Portia’

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

There are a lot of ways for an actor to make a New York stage debut, but the route that led Boston-based performer Douglas Rainey to the West 42nd Street auditorium called Raw Space and into the cast of the Actors Studio Free Theater production of Marina Carr’s “Portia Coughlan” is very probably unique.

At 4:15 in the afternoon a couple of Saturdays ago, the 25-year-old, recently married Rainey was sitting in his living room, watching the NFL draft on television, and thinking about the Hawaiian honeymoon from which he and his bride, Toshi, a Harvard medical student, had returned only a few days earlier. The phone rang. It was “Portia Coughlin” director Margaret Whitton.

The play, scheduled for two performances that day, a matinee at 3 and an evening show at 8, had been forced to cancel the first one when the actor playing the title character’s husband, Raph’l Coughlan, had failed to appear for the day’s early show.

When the vanished performer proved unreachable by phone, director Whitton began to think of alternate possibilities, one of them being that she had heard that the play had been done in Boston earlier in the spring by the S_g_n Theater Company, a well-respected amateur group specializing in Irish plays, working out of the Boston Center for the Arts.

Indeed, S_g_n had done “Portia Coughlin” for a three-week run that had played its last performance on March 14. The actor who played Raph’l in that production was Douglas Rainey. The trail leading to actor Rainey was made somewhat easier by the fact that the Boston production of Carr’s play was directed by Carmel O’Reilly, a cousin-by-marriage of Ciaran O’Reilly, producing director of the Irish Repertory Theatre on 22nd Street.

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“Do you still have your script?” Whitton asked the young actor. He did, of course, and within the hour he was on the Delta shuttle heading for New York and reacquainting himself with the words he’d been called upon to say that evening on an unfamiliar stage surrounded by nine actors, only one of whom he’d ever seen before.

Arriving at the door of Raw Space at 529 West 42nd St. at 7:25, Rainey at least had time to examine Beowulf Boritt’s unit set and check out the difference between it and the one on which he’d worked in Boston’s South End a little over a month earlier.

“I basically had to get into my head where the doors were,” the actor said after the following day’s matinee, “because the set in Boston had been a kind of flipped version of the one designed for the Actors Studio production.”

The actor, a native of the Philadelphia suburb of Villanova and a 1994 Dartmouth graduate, definitely saved the day for “Portia Coughlan,” but, by general agreement, he is, at 25, a decade-and-a-half too young to be genuinely convincing as the heroine’s cold-hearted, 40ish husband, at least in this particular production.

So, with good feeling all around, Douglas Rainey had an heroic weekend in New York then returned to Boston with a first-rate New York credit to add to his resume.

For the remainder of the run of “Portia Coughlan,” which ends with this coming Sunday’s matinee, the part of Raph’l Coughlan will be played by Dubliner Colin Lane, a hero in his own right, having joined the company with little more than a day’s notice.

Dublin-based playwright Carr, making her own local debut, has had a distinctly positive demonstration of the courage and dedication New York actors bring to their craft. Boston actors, too, to be sure.

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