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December 3, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Actor Christopher Evan Welch had deep Seattle roots

Christopher Evan Welch and Peggy Pope in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s "Harvey" (1993)./Chris Bennion photo

Christopher Evan Welch and Peggy Pope in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “Harvey” (1993)./Chris Bennion photo

Actor Christopher Evan Welch, a native Texan well-known to Seattle audiences from his school/work here, died Monday in Los Angeles. Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson shares this:

There are some actors whose mere presence produces a jolt: when they step on stage, the electricity crackles and recharges the atmosphere.  That was often my experience watching Christopher Evan Welch, a Dallas native who began his successful acting career in Seattle in the early 1990s and who died Monday, in  Los Angeles. He was 48, and according to close friends, he had quietly battled cancer for several years. The disease had been in remission, but he suddenly fell ill.

I began hearing about Welch while he was still a graduate student in the Professional Actors Training Program at UW.  “You have to see this guy,” was the word, and I soon got the opportunity when he made his professional debut in 1991, starring in Tony Kushner’s “The Illusion” at ACT Theatre. Playing a reckless young rake in 17th-century France, Welch was already a magnetic performer whose wit, charisma and physical command (he finessed some thrilling sword fights ) were unmistakable.

He went on to perform major roles at Shakespeare festivals, and artistic director Daniel Sullivan quickly recruited him for Seattle Repertory Theatre, where Welch honed his sly comedic gifts and superb character-actor chops.  As a glum mischief-maker in “She Stoops to Conquer,” a sleazy lawyer  (in “Buying Time”), an arrogant psychiatrist in “Harvey,” he was an ace Rep ensemble player who always blended in, and always stood out.

Recalled fellow actor and PATP grad Kevin Loomis, “Chris was a major talent, incredibly adept at comedy. When we did ‘Harvey’ together, he had all of us in stitches.”

After excelling opposite Bill Irwin at the Rep, in a boisterous version of Moliere’s “Scapin,” Welch went with the show to New York, and got busy there, performing on Broadway (he was a despicable Puritan minister in “The Crucible” opposite Liam Neeson) and in many Off Broadway productions, including Shakespeare plays in Central Park. Most recently he co-starred  with Edie Falco in the Liz Flahive play “The Madrid,” earlier this year.

He became more widely known for his work in dozens of films (“The Master,” “Lincoln,” the narrator in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), and on TV series,

 Bill Irwin and Christopher Evan Welch in the rehearsal hall for Seattle Repertory Theatre’s "Scapin." (1995)/Chris Bennion photo

Bill Irwin and Christopher Evan Welch in the rehearsal hall for Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “Scapin.” (1995)/Chris Bennion photo

where he had a role in “Rubicon” and guest roles in popular series including the “Law and Order” franchise and “The Sopranos.”  He  was filming a new HBO series, “Silicon Valley,” just before his death.

Though he often played jerks and weasels, Welch himself was nothing like that offstage.  He was friendly and funny, a family guy, a rocker who performed in Seattle with his band, The Ottoman Bigwigs, and  favored a grunge-style shaggy look when not in costume.

I interviewed Chris in New York in 1997, as his career was taking off, and I was struck by his humility, openness and dedication to his craft.  He had just turned down “about a million Gen-X sit-coms,” he told me, to accept a small role working in Al Pacino’s indie film “Chinese Coffee” — because, well, it was Pacino.

Welch returned to Seattle in 2000, to perform in the  U.S. premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “A Skull in Connemara” at ACT.  Now his many  friends and colleagues here are mourning his loss.

Welch is survived by his wife, Emma, and their 3-year old daughter, June, as well as his parents and two siblings. Funeral services in Dallas are pending.

Comments | More in Arts news | Topics: ACT Theatre, Bill Irwin, Christopher Evan Welch

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