END OF THE REGAN ERA | Regan Adair recently moved to New York, leaving Dallas theater without one of its busiest and most versatile talents.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Regan Adair was born to be in theater. But it took him a while to get there.

If you’ve seen good theater in Dallas over the last 10 years, chances are you’ve seen Adair’s work, either as an actor or director. He started with ingenue roles in community theater productions like You Can’t Take It With You, and gay comedies like Cowboys. Over the years, he amassed an amazing resume of shows, playing a blind man in Love! Valour! Compassion! at Uptown Players and the lead in the dark David Mamet urban horror Edmond at Second Thought Theatre.

He directed one of the best shows of 2009 (Talk Radio), teasing out a performance by Elias Taylorson that nabbed him the Voice’s Actor of the Year citation; in 2010, Adair received the honor himself, largely for his work with the Dallas Theater Center. (Adair was a staple at the DTC for so long — from Rosencrantz in Hamlet to Bob Cratchit in the latest incarnation of A Christmas Carol — you might have thought he was one of the members of the Brierley Resident Acting Company, but he remained independent.) For one season, he was even the artistic director at the Richardson Theatre Center. He’s been a gem of the Dallas theater community.

Only he’s not Dallas-based anymore. Earlier this year, Adair moved back to New York with his partner, whose job moved. With all his successes, it might seem surprising that it took Adair so long to get to New York. But in fact, it’s déjà-vu for him.

The first time Adair lived in New York City, he was not prepared for it. He was 21 and had just won a national fashion design competition with prize that included an internship with Cynthia Rowley. He was on the rise — young and cute and talented in the city where, if you can make it, you can make it anywhere.

But it wasn’t right for him.

“New York was just so overwhelming,” he says over a latte in Dallas. “I was so lonely, I couldn’t get out fast enough.”

While he was there, however, Adair was the subject of an E! documentary. The host asked him a question that stuck with him: “Have you ever done any acting before?”

“When she asked, I thought, ‘Are you saying I’m not good enough at fashion to make a living at it?,’ because that’s where my mind goes. The thing was, that was what I was gonna do with my life.”

Like a lot of gay men, Adair struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his religious upbringing.

“I didn’t know anyone there and I was not remotely comfortable with myself and being gay,” he says. “I took my bible to work with me and hid behind it.”

New York was — is — a city of temptation for someone discovering who he is; now that he’s more settled, more sure of himself, he feels more better adjusted to deal with that.

It might be that early search for identity that attracts Adair to complex stories about despair and the need to find something to fill our lives, which describes the play Red Light Winter to a T.

“I absolutely love this play,” Adair gushes over the Adam Rapp drama, a Pulitzer Prize finalist getting its regional debut at Second Thought under Adair’s direction. “I don’t know how it will be received by people due to its graphic nature, but I love it.”

And he means lots of nudity. And sex. Lots.

“The scope of the play is sexual intrigue, but on a much deeper level it’s about the need for love and mutual fulfillment. It’s not just about nudity — at the end of the first act, the sex is really about making love; it’s beautiful. In the second act … well, let’s say it’s the complete opposite of that. It’s such a human play.”

Adair first encountered the Red Light Winter when he directed a staged reading for the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival two years ago. Then, while appearing last fall in Henry IV, his castmate Steven Walters mentioned he was producing the show for Second Thought.

“I told him I had to direct it,” Adair says. He came back to Dallas expressly to direct the show — and to bid his farewell to Dallas.

It’s a ballsy way to goodbye. One of Adair’s decisions was to configure the stage in basketball-court fashion, so that audience members can see each other across the stage, something that is bound to make people uncomfortable, especially given the subject matter.

“It’s like when you put on porn in a room with other people in it,” he explains. “You wonder, are they watching it or watching you watch it?”

The risk is great for a show like this, but Adair says he’s never been prouder of a show or a cast, either as an actor or director. And if people don’t like it? Well, that’s OK, too.

“I’m attracted to despair,” he says. “People want a happy ending. Not me. My favorite movie of all time is Chinatown. If life takes you in a different direction, so be it.”

That’s a perfect attitude for someone making a living in New York as an actor.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.