Joel: Please introduce yourselves and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on local stages.
Lizzi: For the last several years I’ve worked mainly with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, but I’ve also performed at Constellation Theater Company, the American Century Theater, and Barabbas Theater. My next role will be as the Chorus in Barabbas’s production of Henry V at Capital Fringe this summer.
Sue: I’ve been performing in the D.C.-Baltimore-Annapolis region for many years. I’ve worked at Spooky Action Theater, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Compass Rose Theater, and Bay Theatre Company, as well as the Capital Fringe Festival and other venues.
What is it about Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories that made you want to be in this production?
Lizzi: I get offered a lot of roles that are like Lisa in the first scene–insecure, ditzy, worshipfully deferential to the authority figure in the room. To have the playwright, via the character of Ruth, say, “Nuh-uh, that’s crap, what else do you have going on in there,” and to then get to explore what’s behind that facade and who this character really is in all her complexity and intelligence and contradictions, is something you almost never see. I jumped at the chance.
Sue: Ruth Steiner, the character I play, goes through some major changes during the course of the play, and I wanted to explore how she responds to them and how her relationship with Lisa changes–and to share these discoveries with the Peter’s Alley audiences.
What is the play about from the point of view of your character?
Lizzi: The play is about a lot of things, but I think the biggest question for Lisa is: how do you live as an artist? Do they operate by different rules than other people? What happens when you put your art above everything else? Throughout the play we see Ruth mentoring Lisa on these questions just as much if not more than the craft of composition and the practical questions of getting published.
Sue: My character might say the play is about a teacher who nurtures and befriends a gifted student, who inexplicably betrays her teacher.
How do you relate to your character?
Lizzi: “How to live as an artist” is probably the question I devote the most brain space to on a daily basis. But I also relate to Lisa’s journey in terms of how she presents herself. I certainly had experiences when I was younger of people saying to me, “Wow, you’re a lot smarter than I thought you were when I met you,” or “Your dumb blonde act had me fooled.” I was never consciously trying to project that, but I think young women are socialized to believe that adorable and nonthreatening is preferable to presenting yourself as a serious adult with ideas, and it takes some work to break that habit.
Sue: I connect with Ruth’s down-to-earth sensibility, her idealized memories, and her faith in the next generation.
What personal experiences did you bring to your performance? Did you base your performance on a family member, or friend, or someone else?
Lizzi: I’ve definitely been guilty of downplaying my intelligence and relying on charm to win people over, and I’ve seen it in my friends as well (though most of us have grown out of it by now, fortunately). I’ve also had experiences where I find have to put some distance between myself and someone who’s been a wonderful mentor to me for the sake of my own growth. Fortunately, it’s never been as dramatic as it is in the play, but it’s always a tricky dynamic to navigate.
Sue: This play is SO rich with human emotion and response! Playwright Donald Margulies made it easy to color my character with my own experiences and feelings. I have a wonderful, talented daughter who is Lisa’s age, and the thought of our close relationship going sour contributed to my grasp of what happens to Ruth. If I based my performance on anyone I knew, it was subconscious; we are all blends of people and experiences.
Now that the production has been playing for a few weeks, how has your performance changed or grown? Has your chemistry together changed?
Lizzi: Sue and I got along well from the first rehearsal, but what I’m really conscious of now when I’m onstage is how differently she appears to me depending on where we are in the story. There are moments when we’re so comfortable with one another I almost forget there’s an audience and we’re not just sitting in her living room talking. And then there are moments when I look at her and think, I don’t recognize you, you look like someone I’ve never seen before. It’s a big journey to go through every night. Luckily we have a very warm relationship offstage!
Sue: I feel more grounded in my character and definitely more closely connected with and tuned into my co-actor, Lizzie Albert.
What kind of audience reaction are you receiving and what have been some of the comments that audience members have personally told you that surprised you and/or moved you?
Lizzi: The director, Aly Ettman, really encouraged me to keep an eye out for Lisa’s darker, more ambitious and manipulative side, but I’m so steeped in her justification for her actions that I’ve been surprised by how furious some audience members (including my own mother!) are about the plot development that happens in the second act. It’s definitely a testament to how invested they are in the relationship between Lisa and Ruth.
Sue: There is some wry humor in this play, and it’s great to hear the knowing laughs. But what has impressed me most is the silence–when I know the audience is hanging on our words and is 100% with us on this excruciating journey
What have you learned about yourself-the actor-during this experience?
Lizzi: That when you’re onstage for two hours nonstop, your focus can’t wander for even a second. It requires a different kind of stamina than I’m used to. And that after several years of doing classical theater, it is very liberating to wear pants!
Sue: Having a somewhat short-term-focus personality, I have learned to remain hyper-focused and present in each moment when the stakes are high, as they are in this play.
What do you want audiences to take with then after seeing you perform in Collected Stories?
Lizzi: For one thing, that you can have two hours of a play about two women that has nothing (okay, very little) to do with romantic love. Women have other things on their mind and in their identities and it’s nice to see that reflected onstage.
And also, that there’s always a price for your choices. Lisa pays a steep price for a decision she makes, but there would have been a different kind of cost if she had made the opposite decision. Navigating those questions is hard and something we ultimately do alone; but living with the consequences is what it means to be an adult.
Sue: That our characters are human, that they each have their positive and negative sides, that very little is black and white, that there isn’t always one person to blame when things go awry. They may even think about forgiveness in a new way.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with one intermission.
Collected Stories plays through May 29, 2016 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions performing at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Miles Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.
Review: ‘Collected Stories’ at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions by David Siegel.