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Longtime Dallas Actor Larry O’Dwyer Has Died At 77

by Jerome Weeks 28 Feb 2014 2:04 PM

The deadpan clown was a mainstay of North Texas theater for 30 years – eventually moving to New Jersey and then Baltimore, where he earned praise from the Washington Post and The New Yorker.


Laurence O'DwyerLaurence O’Dwyer in Trouble in Mind at Arena Stage. Photo credit: Richard Anderson.


Photo by Richard Anderson
Photo by Richard Anderson
Photo by Richard Anderson

UPDATE: Theatre Three has announced that the memorial service for Larry O’Dwyer will be held at the theater on March 24 at 6 p.m. The public is invited.

One of the mainstays of North Texas theaters for 30 years, Laurence O’Dwyer died this morning in Knox City, Texas, from complications after an earlier surgery for colon cancer, a release from Theatre Three reports. O’Dwyer had retired to Knox City last year. He began his acting career at Theatre Three in 1962, and his last show there was Sly Fox in 2003. He also headed up their children’s shows for 20 years. But O’Dwyer was perhaps best known for his many comic, even clowning roles in such shows as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and he often played opposite Terry Vandivort as a Mutt-and-Jeff pair in such plays as Waiting for Godot.

O’Dwyer was such a child of theater, his first name was deliberately spelled like Sir Laurence Olivier’s. Beginning in the ’90s, he had an ongoing second stage career in New Jersey, where often appeared at the McCarter Theatre in such shows as Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance, Mirandolina and the same playwright’s Changes of Heart. The French comedies were a natural avenue for him, considering all of the Moliere he’d acted at Theatre Three. Late in his life in Dallas, Larry was ‘gay bashed’ outside of an Oak Lawn bar. The shock of such an assault was only amplified for those who knew O’Dwyer; he had such a sad-gentle demeanor (though he could be a demon onstage).

His appearances at the McCarter eventually led to his twelve years as an associate artist at Center Stage in Baltimore, with attention-getting appearances at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. He played Lady Bracknell in Center Stage’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, for instance, while getting newspaper profiles and good reviews at Arena as an aged Irish doorman in the Alice Childress play, Trouble in Mind, about black actors in New York in 1957. In 2009, Variety hailed O’Dwyer and the Washington Post ran a small profile of him when he stepped in on short notice for another actor in Arena Stage’s The Fantasticks. He’d actually played the role of the decrepit Henry earlier at Theatre Three, but the last-minute Arena performance won a supporting actor prize for him in Washington’s Helen Hayes Awards. He called it “my just-in-time” award.

As a last-minute replacement for actor Terrence Currier, who left because of a family emergency, O’Dwyer says he had about 2 1/2 days to rehearse “Fantasticks” before previews, but that the part came easily to him. “I was having dinner and I started seeing the character,” he remembers. “It’s been influenced by Harpo, Buster Keaton. . . . They’re with me all the time.” Twentieth-century Shakespearean greats Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud also found their way into Henry’s speechifying, says the actor.

When his Henry tries (and fails) to recite Shakespeare, one can sense the grandiloquence that once was there. Describing himself as “sort of a dinosaur when it comes to classics,” O’Dwyer, who studied at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and once headed the drama program at Bennington College, is a stickler about diction, which, like grammar and diagraming sentences, doesn’t seem to be taught anymore.

For almost the last decade and a half, O’Dwyer, 73, has been an associate artist at Center Stage in Baltimore, where Artistic Director Irene Lewis has cast him, he says, “in one odd and interesting thing after another,” including “Peter Pan,” in which he played Tootles, one of the Lost Boys. In October, he played the fearsomely proper Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” “I think I was very convincing,” the actor says of his efforts to avoid camping her up. “I used my own voice and behaved myself.”

Actually, critics and theatergoers may remember O’Dwyer for decidedly not behaving himself on stage at Theatre Three, where his improvised clowning was often the highlight (and sometimes, yes, the bewilderment) of many productions. In 2013, O’Dwyer retired from the stage, moving to Knox City, west of Fort Worth.

The Theatre Three release says a memorial service will be held there, but details are pending.

The full release:

Theatre Three actor/director Larry O’Dwyer has died

(Dallas, Texas) Larry O’Dwyer, an actor and director long associated with Theatre Three, died this morning in Knox City, Texas following surgery for colon cancer at the age of 77. Larry began his acting career with Theatre Three in 1962’s, playing many major roles including Tartuffe, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. His final show at Theatre Three was Sly Fox in 2003. He directed many shows at Theatre Three including Hedda Gabler, Design for Living, and Animal Farm. For 20 years, Larry wrote and directed a series of imaginative children’s shows for Theatre Three, inspiring Dallas’ youngest citizens. Larry finished his acting career as an associate artist at CenterStage in Baltimore, Maryland and in July of 2013, he retired to Knox City. He is survived by his long-time partner, Ricky Tankersly. A memorial service will be held at Theatre Three. Details are pending.