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Play Hilda's Yard finds a new home after Langham Court cancellation

Lead actor brings impressive resume with parts in Seinfeld, Cheers and Friends
Anthony Cistaro, who has appeared on some of the most notable TV comedies in history, stars in Hilda's Yard, which opens at St. Luke's Church Hall this week. Handout

ON STAGE: Hilda’s Yard

Where: St. Luke’s Church Hall, 3821 Cedar Hill Cross Rd.

When: Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 5-6

Tickets: $16 from

Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld are three of the most popular and influential comedies in the history of broadcast television — and Anthony Cistaro has appeared in episodes of each one.

Cistaro, 58, has also worked with The Matrix writer-directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski, and booked roles in several notable comedies and dramas (Ugly Betty, Nip/Tuck, CSI: Miami, Charmed, Witchblade, Alias and The Nanny) along the way. Talk about range: The native of Kirksville, Missouri, even appeared tangentially in Apocalypse Now — that’s a photograph of Cistaro, as a third grader, “playing” Marlon Brando’s son in one scene.

Cistaro will add to his intriguing résumé this weekend with a role in Hilda’s Yard, his first performance as a resident of Victoria. He moved here in August with his wife, author Melissa Cistaro, who is studying to receive her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Victoria.

Shortly after their arrival, Cistaro learned of a casting call for Hilda’s Yard, which was originally set for Jan. 9-Feb. 6 at Langham Court Theatre. He auditioned, and won a part in playwright Norm Foster’s acclaimed family dramedy.

“I just really wanted to do some theatre,” he said. “The production has had some ups and downs, but we’re going to do a couple of weekends of performances, which will be nice.”

The initial run of Hilda’s Yard was cancelled last month by the newly elected Langham Court board, along with two other future productions, following a series of staff changes at the historic theatre. The play was deep into rehearsals when the cancellation was announced, and was in danger of being scuttled completely before a new home was secured at the 11th hour.

Hilda’s Yard was relocated to St. Luke’s Church Hall in Saanich, and will run over two weekends at the usual home of the St. Luke’s Players. Cistaro said he was glad to see the production continue. A graduate of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre Institute, and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, he believes live theatre has earned its respect.

He was taught that philosophy during three years of study in Los Angeles with Stella Adler, the noted acting coach whose former students include Brando, Robert De Niro and Warren Beatty. “Anyone who trained with her has that understanding of theatre and the stage and the platform. She saw that as a sacred space, and an environment of respect. I don’t take lightly the opportunity to do live theatre.”

Acting is among his earliest memories. Cistaro’s family was its own performing arts entity in the 1970s, with various siblings booking parts around the San Francisco area. The oldest of six children, he turned that experience into a wildly eclectic career, which included a recurring role in Cheers (he played Henri, a lascivious bartender who competes against Ted Danson for the attention of female customers) and a brief spot in the final episode of Friends, opposite Jennifer Aniston.

“I’ve been very fortunate, in that regard,” he said. “Seinfeld, Cheers, and Friends, those shows were already established, so it was exciting to be able to walk into that world as a fan.”

Cistaro is perhaps best remembered for his Seinfeld turn in 1993. He was cast as Elaine’s boyfriend, Joel Rifkin, an innocent man who shares a name with the real-life serial killer. The show was averaging 30 million viewers per episode when Cistaro appeared, which resulted in stop-on-the-street attention from diehard fans at the time.

“I’m always surprised when I get recognized,” he said. “But it’s always very flattering.”