News Column

Actors 'work as one mind' for Balagula production of 'The Two-Character Play'

October 31, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 31--Rachel Rogers will play this little game, even out in public, with Ryan Case.

"We're at the cafe, just sitting, and we'll make a mutual agreement that we're playing these characters and we're on a street in Paris for five minutes," Rogers says. "Then we go off and play a couple other characters for a few minutes, and then we laugh and laugh and laugh and come back to reality."

The theater artists have a stage history together that dates to 2005, when Rogers played the sister to Case's Vincent van Gogh in Actors Guild of Lexington's production of Vincent in Brixton.

As Rogers has made a return to the stage during the past year, following a hiatus of several years, she and Case started talking about their desire to do a show together.

"We work as one mind when we are onstage together," Case says. "It could be the history that we've had in the theater together, working together, but I also think it's what we bring to the table, each of us, that colors the strengths for us."

The search for a project led them to the idea of finding a two-character play. That brought Rogers to a work by Tennessee Williams called, well, The Two-Character Play. The late- career work by the American theater icon isn't up there with household titles such as A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie, but Rogers knew the show.

"I'm a Southern actress. Of course, I have to be aware of all of Tennessee Williams' things," she says. "I had read large portions of it (The Two-Character Play) and been so drawn to it because it's not so archetypal as other Tennessee Williams."

The 1960s play is based loosely on Williams' relationship with his sister, Rose, who also was the model for shy, lame Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. In The Two-Character Play, the brother and sister are actors forced to perform after being abandoned by their own troupe. During the course of the show, they both go in and out of reality, though Rogers, Case and director Natasha Williams are loath to reveal much more.

The style of play is closer to avant-garde writers including Samuel Beckett, putting it right in Balagula Theatre's wheelhouse.

"It's a very different play, but it's a very beautiful play," Williams says. "It's more like a poem than a story, yet it's a story."

It premiered in London in 1967, then played on Broadway in a retooled version called Out Cry in 1973. Last summer it was revived off-Broadway -- after Balagula announced its season, Williams points out -- with Tony Award winner Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif, an Oscar nominee for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

In his review for The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote that the title characters were "competitive and codependent in a fierce, scary way that is particularly associated with show people and siblings. Just put them on a stage, then step back and watch them burn, possibly to a pile of ashes."

The challenge of playing those people, Rogers and Case say, is probably why the show has not been done more.

"It's the most bastard, difficult play that was ever written," Rogers says.

Case adds, "I don't want to scare anyone off," and like a proper sibling, Rogers chimes in, "It's easy to watch. Well-played, it's a beautiful show."

Case continues, "Anyone who has ever loved anyone and been that close to anyone and depended on anyone in their lives -- their family -- in any way can watch this and relate to it on a human level."

Balagula also is relating the show to Williams' history visiting Lexington, particularly to see a friend, artist Henry Faulkner, by incorporating some of Faulkner's work into the visual presentation of the show.

But the focus will be on two actors, seizing a chance to share the stage and showing Lexington audiences a new side of a pillar of American theater.

IF YOU GO

'The Two-Character Play'

What: Balagula Theatre's production of Tennessee Williams' play.

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 3-6, 10-13

Where: Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade

Tickets: $20, $15 students. Available at 1-888-927-4850 or Balagula.com.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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