'How to Cheat' challenges actor with role just for him

How to Cheat
Candy Simmons and Randy Reyes in Gremlin Theater's "How to Cheat."
Image courtesy Gremlin Theater:/Aaron Fenster

It's uncommon for actors to have plays written specifically for them. But this weekend Twin Cities theatergoers can catch Randy Reyes in the edgy comedy, "How to Cheat," which playwright Alan Berks created for him.

Reyes is much in demand as a performer and a director, but this play is written to challenge him and highlight his talents.

On the stage of the Gremlin Theater in St. Paul, Reyes and Candy Simmons run through a scene.

"How old are you," she asks.

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"How old are you?" Reyes responds. She smiles and walks away.

"That's where you would move away from him faster," Berks interrupts.

Berks, who is also directing "How to Cheat" makes suggestions about smoothing out the movement.

Candy Simmons, Randy Reyes
Candy Simmons and Randy Reyes dance a real and metaphorical tango as a couple who meet at a cocktail party in "How to Cheat"
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

A shorter version of "How to Cheat" premiered a few years back at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Then, as now, Reyes worked a lot on Twin Cities stages. But having a play written for him offered him new opportunities and the chance to ask for certain things.

"I wanted to play someone complex. I wanted to play someone smart. I wanted to play someone sexy," Reyes said. "Sometimes the roles that are out there for me — specifically are written for Asian Americans — are limited. So it was great to talk about what I didn't want to do as much as things I was interested in exploring and being able to have the opportunity to play."

For Berks it was chance to work with an actor whose skills and talent he greatly admires. He said collaborating with Reyes is like listening to a great musician.

"Being able to work with someone like Randy who brings all of that, and can play the music, in some ways it's the only way to do theater," Berks said.

Born in the Philippines, Reyes moved to Los Angeles as a youngster. He got his Bachelor of Arts degree in Utah, and then won a place at Juilliard to study acting. He considered a career in New York, but says the lack of loyalty in the theater scene disturbed him.

"I would workshop a play, do readings, workshop and develop a play, then they would get a big production of it and they hire someone because they did one 'LA Law' or a 'Law & Order' somewhere, and that was very frustrating," Reyes said.

Reyes came to Minnesota to work at the Guthrie Theater, and liked what he saw. He moved here and hurled himself into the Minnesota theater scene. He quickly made a name for himself as an actor with impeccable timing and knack for comedy. He has worked with companies large and small all over the Twin Cities.

Randy Reyes
Randy Reyes said he had never had the opportunity to play a leading man until Alan Berks offered to write "How to Cheat" specifically for him. He appears in the play with Candy Simmons.
Image courtesy Gremlin Theater:/Aaron Fenster

"I jokingly call him the busiest man in showbiz — in Asian-American showbiz — no, in show business in general," said Rick Shiomi, artistic director of Mu Performing Arts.

Shiomi first saw Reyes at the Guthrie and has worked with him since. Reyes is now a part-time community liason for Mu Performing Arts. Shiomi said Reyes' acting talent firmly based in his training, combined with his skill as a director, a teacher, and as a developer of new work means he has broad influence in Minnesota theater.

"The Asian-American theater world has a much larger impact because of him," Shiomi said.

Reyes sets a high standard for other Asian performers, Shiomi said. However, by also performing roles that might not ordinarily go to Asian Americans, Shiomi says Reyes expands theater company horizons and creates opportunities for other actors.

However, some things remained out of reach for Reyes until he worked on "How to Cheat."

Rick Shiomi
When Rick Shiomi first created Theater Mu in 1992, he had to find Asian-Americans interested in acting and train them, and work with writers to create plays his company could perform.
Image courtesy of Mu Performing Arts

"It was one of the first times I was able to play a leading man. I think it was only the second, or maybe the first time I had a kiss onstage," he said.

For most people, opening one play as a lead in a two-person show would be enough, but apparently not Reyes. He can be found Sunday at Dreamland Arts in St Paul, where he directs a workshop performance of a post-apocalyptic comedy called "Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals."