In Part 4 of a series of interviews with the cast of WSC Avant Bard’s production of Friendship Betrayed—a classic comedy by Spanish playwright María de Zayas y Sotomayor—meet Melissa Marie Hmelnicky.
Joel: Where have local audiences seen you perform recently on stage?
Why did you want to be part of the cast of Friendship Betrayed at Avant Bard?
When you see that Kari Ginsburg is tied to a project, you jump to be a part of it—whether she is acting or directing. So even before auditions I was “all in” if the Casting Powers That Be would have me. And then I read the script. Our playwright, María de Zayas y Sotomayor, was a woman far ahead of her time. Though the play was written in the 17th century, it features five very different women, each possessive of strong character and sexual agency. Many modern plays do not even seek to accomplish thi,s and María de Zayas y Sotomayor wildly succeeds while weaving these ladies into a story that balances ridiculousness and heart so beautifully. And then Kari revealed that her concept would set the play in 1920 New York. I was drooling at the possibility of getting to be a part of this production.
Who do you play in the show? How do you relate to her?
I play Fenisa, the most sexually liberated and least lady-loyal of our group. We have all met Fenisas. She is the girl at the party who shamelessly flirts with your boyfriend right in front of you and says things like “I luv ya, girl! Cute dress!”… while she’s texting your man to meet her up later for something seemingly innocuous but actually venomous. She’s feline but also quite serpentine; she craves attention from all men with little to no standards or boundaries and is quick to pounce and slow to coil. I personally cringe at Fenisas when I encounter them and have no time for those who show a lack of respect for relationships—others’ or their own. That being said, I admire Fenisa’s ability to schedule so many men into her life—she must have more time in her day than the average person, and I’d love to get in on her scheduling strategy, especially when I’m juggling shows, rehearsals, and my job. Maybe I’d be able to squeeze some grocery shopping in! I also think Fenisa’s betrayals take their origin from a bottomless canyon of insecurity and painful heartache related to men and her own identity (or lack thereof)—and for that, I have both pity and sympathy.
What’s the show about from the point of view of your character
Friendship Betrayed is about my ability to make all men fall in love with me—and how I love each and every one of them right back I guess it is also somewhat about those wretched women who just don’t know how to enjoy themselves—or men±the way that I do. Ugh. If I can quote myself: “Cursed be the woman who loves only one man because it is cowardly to limit yourself to a single lover. Nature is vain and beautiful.”
Kari Ginsburg, the director, has set Friendship Betrayed in the 1920s. How are you creating a classical character with Roaring Twenties appeal?
The script automatically has a classical feel—so I am leaning into the language and learning to love the way the sometimes odd arrangement of words feels and sounds. Regarding the Roaring Twenties—I got a sneak peek at Rhonda Key’s 1920 costuming during our promo photo shoot, and I know that she will have Fenisa looking flapper fresh! There is also bootleg boozing on stage and some slinky, scandalous 1920-style flirtation.
What is your favorite scene that you are not in and why?
There is a delightful scene with Marcia (Megan Dominy), Belisa (Alani Kravitz), and Laura (Daven Ralston) that opens with them entering linked-arms, talking about all of the “amazing things” that have happened. It is an adorably girly and joyous scene that makes me beam and giggle every time. I love it.
What is your favorite line or lines that your character says, and what is your favorite line that someone else says in the show?
Fenisa has some great lines, but this one tickles me: “You are right. Oh, Lucia, this is quite a mess. Betrayal of so much friendship…” Because you have to, as an actor, love when you give a line that so clearly echoes the title of the play. Regarding others’ lines, we have crazy-talented actors doing such brilliant things with this script, but my current favorite line another actor has is from Leon (Connor Hogan) when he is counting his teeth for reasons I will not reveal here. He says: “One. Two. Jesus….” and Connor does something with this that makes me laugh every single time. Which is a problem because that line is given to Fenisa in a moment when she should not be laughing…
What are you doing next on the stage?
I’m not quite sure yet. I’ve been lucky to do two personally challenging shows back to back, so I may be due for a mini stage-break. and it could be time to get back to regularly volunteering with the Washington Humane Society (shameless plug: adopt—don’t shop!) and doing yoga, going grocery shopping, seeing friends like a normal human, and sleeping…etc. But of course I am auditioning around!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Friendship Betrayed?
I want them to leave smiling and having enjoyed the wild ride that is this zany play. But I also want to leave them with a warning: Don’t be a Fenisa or a Liseo. Know and respect boundaries when it comes to relationships; if you can’t do that, at least respect yourself enough to exert self-control or be honest and willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Love-games, man—they are seldom worth it.
Friendship Betrayed plays from September 10 to October 11, 2015 at WSC Avant Bard performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Friendship Betrayed’: Part 1: Alani Kravitz.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Friendship Betrayed’: Part 2: Daven Ralston.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Friendship Betrayed’: Part 3: James Finley.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Friendship Betrayed’: Part 4: Melissa Marie Hmelnicky.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Friendship Betrayed’: Part 5: Zach Roberts.