Actors right at home in Astoria

By Kevin Zimmerman

When starry-eyed youngsters around the country dream of moving to New York City to pursue a life on the stage, they probably don’t imagine themselves in Astoria.

But Manhattan is out of financial reach for most up-and-coming performers, who over the years have flocked to the northwest corner of Queens.

So many young thespians have settled there the neighborhood is commonly referred to as Act-toria.

Now two more residents of the most theatrical corner of the borough are about to take center stage in a new Off-Broadway production, “Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo,” which opens Saturday at the Tada Theater, 15 W. 28th St., in Chelsea.

James Holden, 31, plays Flapjack, and Matt Nichols, 35, steps into the role of Rodrigo, in this neo-noir thriller by playwright Jason S. Grossman. Although set in the present, the actors speak and behave like characters from classic noir films like “Double Indemnity,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “DOA.” But Grossman also offers a salute to the recent neo-noir movies, including “Memento” and “L.A. Confidential.”

“The Ballad of Rodgrio,” the second title in Grossman’s trilogy, follows the exploits of villainous Rodgrio as he plots revenge against the G-men, including Flapjack, who thwarted the bad guy’s father in the first play, and who are out to stop him from fulfilling his evil destiny in this one. It’s Holden’s second turn as the slow-witted Flapjack, a part he originated in the first piece, “Doubles Crossed.”

“I fell in love with the character,” Holden said. “He is described as a lovable man child, which is something I can definitely do. He is so lovable and earnest and always wants to do the right thing.”

A relative newcomer to the New York theater scene, Holden, who grew up in New Jersey, moved to Astoria less than four years ago. Although he had been involved in community theater and the school drama club, he studied communications instead of acting. But four months after graduating from the College of New Jersey, he accepted a job touring with the American Family Theater.

“I didn’t want to live to regret it,” Holden said.

Not long after arriving in Astoria, he landed a spot in a show titled “Oh Night Divine,” where he played one of the wise men with a big tap dancing number.

He is excited about revisiting Flapjack and seeing how the character has grown.

“He’s a little impulsive and gets in binds,” Holden said. “But he became the hero in the first piece by getting the bad guy.”

Of course, Nichols’ character believes he, too, is attempting to do the right thing.

“Playing the villain is what attracted me to the piece,” Nichols said. “The character sees himself as the hero. He is trying to accomplish something he feels justified in doing.”

Grossman’s first play focused more on the comic aspects of the bumbling detective work of Flapjack and his cohorts, Holden said. Despite being a version of the Keystone Kops, the good guys got their man.

“The first one was over-the-top comedic,” Holden said. “This one has humor, but it is much darker. And, while it’s a continuation of the story, with some of the same characters, it stands alone.”

Besides returning characters, four of the actors, including Holden, are coming back to reprise their roles.

Nichols, who has lived in Astoria for nine years, said he was excited about stepping into the part cold in order to try out his version of noir.

“Basically, everything is a little heightened,” Nichols said. “Everyone talked a little faster, and the energy needs to be turned up a little higher.”

Growing up on St. Simons Island, Ga. helped develop Nichols’ love for beaches, marshes and acting, he said. From an early age, he became involved with the local community theater and eventually became a regular fixture in many of the shows’ casts.

After receiving his MFA in acting from Brandeis University in 2004, he headed to New York.

“It’s working out,” Nichols said. “It’s always a challenge, but it’s worth the struggle.”

If You Go

“Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo”

When: May 24 to June 22

Where: Tada Theater, 15 W. 28th St., second floor

Cost: $18

Website: balladofrodrigo.brownpapertickets.com/