Remembrance: Larry Coen — An Irreplaceable Boston Actor
The late Larry Coen was a mainstay in Boston theater.
By Robert Israel
Whether walking down Commercial Street on the way to a matinee at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, or waiting in queue at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA to see a show, I’d hear his voice – the unmistakable sound of actor Larry Coen — who died on January 31 at the age of 59 in Boston.
Coen’s was a booming, rich voice. His presence was large and brash. He suffered no fools. He took nary a prisoner. With his rotund belly jutting past his suspenders, his round, jovial, and fiercely intelligent face, Coen could easily command a room or a stage.
He had talent to more-than-match his robust aura: Coen was a mainstay in Boston theater. He was best known for the vibrant precision of his comic skills, a genius for transforming humor, ranging from the farcical to the absurd, into a kind of inspiring transcendence. He performed just about everywhere with everyone: Huntington Theatre Company, Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, the Beau Jest Moving Theatre, and myriad others. He was always working.
I first met Coen when he was one of the stars in an outrageous production that Ryan Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans troupe was staging at the Machine, located in a basement of a gay bar that hosts a performance space near Fenway Park. (Landry calls the place the Ramrod Center for the Arts). Coen appeared in over 35 productions there. In one particular Gold Dust performance — from about a decade ago — he was made to waddle onstage in a shabby Santa Claus suit, an Old Nick who looked far more depraved than did jolly. Coen had to endure numerous gropings by the cast – I’m talking full frontal crotch attacks.
Some years later, I asked him how he managed to survive each night.
“Are you kidding me?” Coen boomed. “I’d never get through it unless I wore a baseball player’s cup underneath!”
Landry, in his Facebook posting on the performer wrote: “Dear God, we had such great times. So many years. So many wonderful, wonderful hours together. I am so thankful for that. Still, he is gone. My rock. I will never get over this one. Never.”
At the time of his death, Coen was working as artistic director at City Stage, a non-profit educational group that brings theater into the city’s schools. A co-worker found him at his desk; his death has been attributed to natural causes.
Born in Newton, Coen attended public schools there, graduating from Newton North High. He majored in theater at Brandeis University and, at the time of his death, lived in Boston.
Coen was fiercely supportive of other actors, and was a dependable resource for theater troupes looking to stage events as well as actors looking for work. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of performing places in Boston – he was friendly with numerous club owners, stagehands, and school program directors – and he kept his mental Rolodex up-to-date at all times. He had no patience with theater critics, particularly those who not prepared to see a show beforehand. Coen could be scathing about the anemic cultural coverage in Boston’s dailies, whom he accused of offering “paltry support” for the arts in general and the city’s theater companies in particular.
“They are doing less now for theater groups and they’ve even told out-of-town theater groups they won’t be covering them,” Coen told me. “More and more, you’ve got to make it on your own in this business.”
Larry Coen’s wake and remembrance will be held at the Andrew J. Magni and Son Funeral Home, 365 Watertown St., Newton, MA on Wed., Feb. 7, from 3 to 7 p.m.
Ryan Landry is hosting a remembrance for Larry Coen on Sunday, April 1, at 5 p.m., at the Machine, which he promises will be a “joyous” (read: raucous) event.
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at email@example.com