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April 2017

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Sol Claire

In the Next Room 7: My Co-Actors

At 9 this morning, I got to participate in a radio interview about "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play" on 1230 AM WBLQ with radio personality Mark Sullivan. Our director, Derron Wood, phoned in.

I think I was invited mostly because it's a Westerly radio station and I'm local (so is Mark); I got to do something similar last summer for As You Like It.

And it was just fine, although perhaps I could have used more prep. I'd forgotten, or didn't think about, that there were Certain Things people Just Do Not Say on the radio... And that this play is full of 'em.

Actually, I'm still not quite clear on what all they are supposed to be, but had the sense from early on in the interview that there was subject matter we were to talk around. I think that threw me for a moment.

Also, the interview seemed like a vehicle to talk about the Shaw Mansion where we'll be performing. Both Derron and Mark have worked there before, but I've only seen the space from the outside, and know its history only from what Derron has told us in rehearsal. So in that sense I felt a bit useless. Just a bit of a… A bit of an ACTRESS!

Mostly when I talked, I talked about myself.

And... Okay, while I don't mind talking about myself (obviously), or what we may tongue-in-cheekily call my Process, the truth is, I find my co-actors MUCH MORE INTERESTING, and I didn't really get a chance - or take the chance - to offer them up on the sacrificial altar of the AM radio.

In some of our non-recorded conversation, before and between being on the air, Mark asked me some questions about my co-actors and I found myself burbling and glowing about them, but… But I do wish that might have been PUBLIC STUFF.

So let me do some public stuff here. Since we're here. Let me talk about my shining co-actors in the manner in which they ought to be lauded.

First of all, let's get the cocktail talk out of the way.

Hello! All ten of you who read this!

(I can't say "all two of you" anymore, since the last time I did that at least ten people chimed in to say they were here, and I do not want to EXCLUDE ANYBODY!!!)

I want to introduce you to my playmates in Flock Theatre's production of IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY.


Kelsey Alexander plays Mrs. Catherine Givings, the doctor's wife. She is the protagonist of the play, in that it is by her actions that change occurs. She is the first person we see on stage. She has the first and the last lines. She's IT, man.

Now, Kelsey Alexander is a bright-eyed, mischievous, dimpled gamine of a woman. All she has to do is smile a certain way and she looks like she's about twelve again. She is so brave - so GAME for anything - and quick on the uptake too. One of those "tell only once" people and she's got it down. Smart. A firecracker. Very, very funny.

In her real life, she's an Educator, Advocate, and Shelter Staff at a place called "Safe Futures," a Non-Profit Organization that "saves lives, restores hope, and changes the future for those impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault in Southeastern Connecticut." She works in schools too, teaching workshops and after school programs.

Yes, all this and at the age of 24. When I first started getting to know her, she'd talk about work and it was all I could do not to double-take and goggle like a cartoon dog. She's one of the heroes.

The first thing I noticed about her as an actress was that even at the table reading, she'd glance up from her script and across the table if her character was talking to yours. Instant connection. Instant response.

If I start getting too much in my head in rehearsal, I try very hard just to look at her face. Just to see her. A wave of affection washes over me, and I'm there again. Playing with vibrators with this fiery goofy girl who is beginning to be my friend.

That's Kelsey.

Eric Michaelian is playing her husband, Dr. Givings.

Now, I've had an actor-crush on Eric Michaelian since encountering him in a callback for As You Like It last March - almost a whole year ago now.

He made an Impression. If I had been a duckling, I'd've followed him home.

Really, all I wanted to do since then was to be on a stage with him again. Somehow. It seemed the unlikeliest of unlikely possibilities. Ships in the night. I met him maybe twice more, for about five minutes each time, over the course of last year. It did not seem we would ever work together, much less become friends.

Then suddenly… BAM! In comes this VIBRATOR PLAY and there he is, right between my legs, waving his magic wand and talking about Thomas Edison.

Well, his character does, anyway.

Eric's great. He's got this natural comedic timing that's just killer. (Kelsey and I, especially in early rehearsals, had to bite the insides of our lips in order not to lose it onstage.) He constantly seems to be going deeper, becoming subtler, more natural, honing his voice to something precise and clipped to the consonants, endowing every object he touches with that actor-flash that makes a pretend thing real. If just for a moment.


His vocabulary is elaborate too, so I like to get him talking. He'll use words in conversation I generally only ever read in books. Kelsey's got a writing side to her as well as an acting and a teacher and a hero side (her writing side is a POET, even!). So does Eric. His love is movies - the horror genre in particular. He writes screenplays. So many times he reminds me of my brothers, and of all those lovely, disgusting, clever people I met through Twilight Tales in Chicago - Jude Mire, Jill Cooper, Tina Jens, Josh Doetsch, Eric Cherry, Michael Penkas, Larry Santoro, and so on - who taught me so much about the dark, gross, beautiful side of art.

Callie Beaulieu Frisell plays Annie, the doctor's midwife/assistant. She's been acting for thirty years all over the country - with a long concentration in Chicago. She's one of those lightning bolt hummingbird women, who infuses a room with energy just by walking into it.

Fabulous wardrobe. Everything that comes out of her mouth is a funny story.

And then you get her onstage, and she is this steady flame. She's like an architect of the Character Arc, so deeply "in the moment" (I place I aspire to and attain only rarely) it's like it is her natural habitat. Only Buddhist monks and master craftspeople, I think, can to manage live in the moment so consistently and so effectively.

The character of Annie is my character's love interest. Callie and I have a stage kiss at the end that is one of my favorite scenes - and probably one of the most difficult for both of us. It's been really interesting to observe (outside the moment of course, looking back) the journey from the first rehearsal of the kiss to, say, last night's kiss.

The first night we were both sweating through our clothes, cracking jokes, and simultaneously reassuring each other. Now it has become exquisite, quiet, terrible. We're getting there. We're going deep.

Callie is wonderful, wonderful! She pays such attention.

Side note:

Callie does this thing that I've begun to think of as some of the most important WORK an actor can do. And I say work because for most humans, it is merely social interaction. The stuff one does with one's friends.

She brings little articles or cartoons that remind her of us during the time we're apart. She'll write private Facebook messages of encouragement and support. She'll touch base with everyone, give hugs, then do her stuff. Concentrate.

I have been thinking. For an actor, it is our JOB to connect with our co-actors, to establish trust, to establish intimacy, because once you have those things, you can do your work more effectively. It's like… showing up on time. Or punching in. Or being polite on the phone. Or using the cash register. It's part of the WORK.

And I am finding this a new thought, and a useful one, because I used to get resentful of actorly relationships. One could be so passionately intense about one's co-actors, so deeply connected, such FRIENDS, and then a week after the show closes, that intimacy vanishes. Sometimes we forget each other's names.

Writers rarely forget each other's names. Make friends with a writer and - this is just speaking in generalities, mind you - you have a friend for a very long time.

To think of my co-actors as CO-WORKERS instead of potential coffee buddies or camping pals or movie-watching companions or barbecue fellows or life-long correspondents is good for me. It's not that I don't think of them as friends too. We're all quite friendly. But I think that when all this is over, I will not experience the pangs and pains of the older, more immature resentment that was so prevalent in high school and in college.

Moving on.

Tristan Cole plays Mr. Daldry, my husband. Last year, he played Orlando to my Rosalind in As You Like It. He's the sort of person who can put on a hat and cravat and look instantly and completely period-appropriate. Not all actors can do that. He is jovial and reliable and solicitous.

The character of Mr. Daldry is a bit of a lunkhead - but Tristan himself is such a sweetheart in real life that it's very funny to watch him play a bumbling brute and then get slapped around for it.

He's also kind of got this superpower wherein he can build stuff? Like, he's helping build all our weird steampunky vibrators, out of various parts of antique blow dryers and drills and doodads, and welding them, and adding buttons and fans, and he'll come out of the workshop with one of these things in his hand, looking VERY PLEASED with himself, and suddenly we have the COOLEST PROP EVER.

Elizabeth Reynolds plays Elizabeth, the wet-nurse. Elizabeth the character has the lowest social status in the play, being not only a wet-nurse and a housekeeper and a woman, but also the only African American in this house full of white people. She is constantly overlooked, and when she is not overlooked, treated rudely or peremptorily, she is exposed to all manner of impertinences.

But she watches. And she listens. And she holds her own. And she gets the best damn monologue of the entire play wherein she just OPENS FIRE WITH BOTH CANNONS at Mrs. Givings, and it is gorgeous.

It's gorgeous writing, but Elizabeth Reynolds amplifies that gorgeousness to the level of heartbreak.

Elizabeth is a quiet actress. Probably the most naturally naturalistic of all of us. She can underplay so beautifully that the rest of us look crass as clowns. I like to watch her when I'm offstage, because, well, you can't help watching her. She is entirely captivating. So completely… present. Great eyes. Great voice. Great smile, those rare times she lets her character smile.

Victor Chiburis plays Leo Irving, an artist. Like my character, Leo is being treated for hysteria. With something called the Chattanooga Vibrator.

Now, Victor's also the guy who made the posters. He's also the guy with the band "Friendly Ghost" that I wrote about a few days ago. He's this tall, slender, intense whipcord of man - with dimples and a piratical earring. Very professional, very hard on himself.

He must have some incredible internal combustion engine that powers his work. Leo Irving's intricate tangential monologues burst out of his lips with scarcely a gasp for breath. He peers out of an invisible window into an invisible snowscape, and his heels bounce with excitement, and his whole face softens like a child's. The tips of his fingers jerk in tiny precise movements when his character is painting on a canvas.

If it weren't for gravity, I think Victor's relentless energy would rocket him right out into the stratosphere.


So, there you have it. That's my cast.

Obviously if I said all this on the radio, the whole hour would've been taken up. But I wanted to say it.

It's odd, isn't it, the people who honor us? How we all get to be in the same room (or the next room) together. In a finite space. In a finite time. Doing this good work.

I will end with a quote from the last scene of the first act of the play.

"Or to blow out a candle - how beautiful!
With one's own breath, to extinguish the light!
Do you think our children's children will be less solemn?
A flick of the finger - and all is lit!
A flick of the finger, and all is dark!
On, off, on, off!
We could change our minds a dozen times a second!
On, off, on, off!
We shall be like gods."

- Sarah Ruhl, In the Next Room
"In the Next Room" performances are the last two weekend of February (21st-23rd, 28th-March 2nd) with previews the 14th-16th.

All entries on the rehearsal process are tagged under "The Vibrator Play."



Beautifully written: Your Co-Workers (though I also love "playmates") should be honored. Tristan's paroxysm table is so convincing that people will believe it was found in the attic of the Shaw Mansion, which Anne told me actually was a doctor's office at one time. How much more environmental can theatre get?
I think Victor's DAD actually built the table. Though Tristan is building the Instruments!!!

Tee hee.
aha! I wish we could get the word out to the Steampunk fans. . .