Actor goes solo with a purpose Onstage, he battles for better values

February 15, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

For 11 years, Frank Runyeon worked with some of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, including Meg Ryan and Emma Samms.

Now, the 42-year-old actor directs, produces and performs his own one-man plays that draw material from the Bible. On Saturday, Mr. Runyeon will perform "AFRAID!: The Gospel of Mark" at 7 p.m. at St. Martin's-in-the-Field Church on Benfield Road in Severna Park.

If the name Frank Runyeon doesn't sound familiar, maybe the characters he played on television do: Steve Andropoulos on "As the World Turns," Michael Donnelly on "Santa Barbara," Simon Romero on "General Hospital," Ed McLain on "Another World."

"I wasn't planning on having a career in acting," Mr. Runyeon said. "I got bitten by the acting bug a little bit."

The bug struck while Mr. Runyeon was a student at Princeton University. There, he joined the Triangle Club, a student acting club that boasts Jimmy Stewart and Brooke Shields as some of its most famous former members.

Five years after his 1975 graduation, he got his first break, as Steve Andropoulos opposite Ms. Ryan on "As the World Turns."

"I was shocked that I actually got a part that could pay the bills," he recalled.

In 1988, Mr. Runyeon moved to "Santa Barbara." Three years later, he appeared on "General Hospital."

He also has appeared on "Another World," "Falcon Crest," and "L.A. Law." But Mr. Runyeon said he eventually became disenchanted with what he called the misplaced values of Hollywood.

"I just found I wasn't being fed by the material I was acting," he said. "Fame and money can only go for so long by the illusion that any of this means anything."

So Mr. Runyeon picked up his family and his belongings and moved to Connecticut, where he has been working on his plays for the past four years.

Mr. Runyeon said he chose the Bible-based material because the stories are relevant.

"I want to make people much more aware to all of the questions of life [such as] 'Who put us here?' and 'Who am I?'" Mr. Runyeon said. "I want them to go away feeling challenged, not about 'What kind of car do I want this year?' but 'Where do I find myself?' "

Gayle Lamm, coordinator for the church's adult Christian education program, said she invited Mr. Runyeon two months after she and her husband watched another play he performed at a Christian education conference in Henderson, N.C., in July.

"We wanted to do an intergenerational event," said Mrs. Lamm, who organized the performance with her husband, who is the director of the youth Christian education program. "Frank uses participants in the audience -- both children and adults. Little kids will get as much out of it as the adults. It'll just be on a different level."

Mr. Runyeon said he enjoys performing his plays but might return to Hollywood if the timing -- and the material -- is right.

"People always ask me when I'm going to go back to TV or if I'm going to be a priest," he said. "I always answer, 'I don't know.' "

Tickets for the show are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Tickets can be bought at the church, 375 Benfield Road, or at Shepherd's Nook, 558 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd.

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