I dial into a mid-evening conference call. “I’m sorry, your entry is not valid. Please, enter the valid digits followed by the pound sign.”. I double check the number, punch the buttons, and then connect with Eric Messner and Jenna Sokolowski, two gifted talents, currently prepping to open John & Beatrice with The Hub Theatre.
Beatrice is a well-to-do heiress who locks herself away on the 33rd floor of a building and John is the bounty hunter who finds her. Beatrice is seeking a man who will interest, move and seduce her. Eric assures me. …
Eric: (laughs) I will try to do all of those things tonight in rehearsal.
Is this show about how to interest, move, and seduce Beatrice?
Jenna: I would say, not as presented at the beginning of the play. It’s not the initial goal, but they both want that for different reasons. Then, I think, what the actual journey is, is the revealing of what those reasons are, which is also an opening-up of the truth. And what we find out is that the truth is never crystal clear. You know? It’s like a piece of etched glass, that’s already been stained with acid. You know what I mean, its like trying to look through that glass if you can.
You’re working on a two-person show that is very much about longing and searching and a lack of love. How do you take these intangible concepts and create them onstage for an audience?
Eric: Like with any rehearsal, there’s a lot of discussion, a lot of establishing connection. What’s come up a lot is relationships, past and present. What things work, what things don’t.
Jenna: As with anything in life, you’re never gonna have all the answers on the first go round. Like anything, you’re gonna try, you’re gonna get better with time. And, like in love, it’s kind of the same thing when every relationship that you have and every moment you have with another person, every second you spend getting to know somebody, you also get to know more about yourself. And it’s like the play. We started out, well, we’re at a point in the play where Eric is making discoveries along the way and sometimes things are so obvious, but you don’t see them work out other kinks.
Eric: And, to piggyback on that a little bit, you know with a lot of rehearsals, you go in and you’ve already done your research. Especially with the truncated rehearsal process in the American theatre. We can’t rehearse for a year, like some of the Russian companies. You just come in with your ideas, and all your research, and all these things that you think, and once you start working then you’ll see. I’ve seen many times, when I found I couldn’t make a connection to something Jenna’s doing, you know based on the research I’d done, so I throw that out the window.
When you say research, actors tend to think of things like the period, or a certain style of language. For a contemporary piece like John & Beatrice what research did you do?
Eric: It’s starts very simply for me. I read the script, just over and over again. I write down, I know a lot of other people that do this too, I’m just writing down just every single question that comes into my mind, as I’m reading. And sometimes when you re-read these questions and you read further you realize the answer’s in the script. And with this character, he’s a bounty hunter but not a bounty hunter in any type of you know normal sense. He doesn’t have a t.v. show. It’s not Dog the Bounty Hunter. And what I come around to is, and you’ll love this because it’s really dorky. My character has this facility about him that whenever anything changes he very quickly adapts. With the challenges that Jenna’s character throws in the road, like the nails in the road, I started looking at these pop-culture references. Things like Reservoir Dogs. And, honestly, the one that really works? Batman.
Jenna: (laughs) Wow, that is dorky!
And Jenna, how does one prepare to play an heiress who locks herself away on the 33rd floor of a building with no elevator?
Jenna: I started like Eric did, of course, I read the play over and again and again, I studied. You have all these questions about your character. You have, the things that she says about her character. You have, what John says about her. But, Beatrice is a pathological liar. That’s one of the things I’m looking at, and how the truth is used by them. And like with every character I play, I think about them all the time. That person that I’m playing is part of my life. I mean, I’m thinking like my character would think. I’m in a normal everyday situation, I’m out on a run, you know, I’m at the park, and I think, “What would Beatrice think.?”. What’s special about Beatrice is, I think she’s so relate-able. You can only ever bring yourself to the table. At the end of the day, I’m not going to become someone completely different. I am Jenna. What I have to pull from is my own experiences and another person in the play.
You’re both seasoned veterans, you’ve played a vast range and variety of characters in several productions over the years. Why choose to accept this role with this company?
Eric: Jenna, would you like to go first?
Jenna: You go first.
Eric: Well, I love Helen Pafumi. I love working with her. I love working with Hub. I read the play and I had one of those days where I had nothing to do. I read it and finished it and immediately started over. Which doesn’t happen that often. I was just so enamored with the play.
When we were auditioning, Jenna and I auditioned together for Helen, and we ended up going back and forth for like an hour on this stuff. Helen would say, “No you don’t have to do that part again.”. I would say, “No, no, no I wanna do it again.”, you know? I love the play that much. The character is challenging in a way that is so unique and there are so many skills required. There’s a monologue I do in the show, and I always can’t wait to get to that part. I just like saying it.
Jenna: Yeah, the audition was just awesome. It was kind of like scene work had begun. Helen wasn’t just putting us out there and seeing what we could do and saying, “Thank you very much.”. You know? She was pulling stuff out. What she pulled out of this script too is amazing. The script itself is so poetic. And vivid. And the way Helen describes what she wants from us with out telling us how to do it it’s magic. It’s like a chemistry set. You don’t know what’s gonna happen when you mix these two elements, until you mix them. You might have an explosion, nothing might happen. It’s very exciting.
What’s your run time?
Jenna: We’re aiming for 90 minutes. I drink a lot of water in the show and I think if we go any longer it might get dangerous.
In a ninety minute, two-person, piece what is the toughest obstacle for you?
Eric: I’ve never done a two-hander before, what I’ve found really intriguing about it is that there’s no where to hide. When you’re out there, there’s not a second that you can step off. There’s no let-up the whole way through.
Jenna: Joe, this is real work. This is such a gift. You asked why we took this show, and it’s just like Eric said, this is just a two person show. It’s real work and it’s exciting. It’s about finding out what you want from the other person, throughout the entire show. It’s so pure. It’s not about a bunch of concepts we’re trying to layer on there. It’s about personalities. It’s lovely to be able to actually come to rehearsal everyday and leap and feel like I’m being challenged at work and given a true work out.
In these final days before opening what will you need to work out before an audience sees this piece?
Jenna: Run it. Run it and run it.
Eric: The show doesn’t have really any breaks or stops so it can be difficult for you to just drop in somewhere when rehearsing. And I agree with Jenna, we need to get the feel of the whole thing. Not like working beat to beat, but we need to feel the beat into the next one. We need to feel the whole thing, start to end.
Jenna: I just want to get it in front of an audience.
Be that audience! Hub Theatre’s production of John & Beatrice by Carole Fréchette opens April 13 and runs thru May 5, 2012 at the John Swayze Theatre, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax, VA.
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