This is the fairy tale story of the whirlwind romance between a lonely, lyrical young script and the scrappy theater company that swept her off her feet. Such is the tale of Rorschach Theater’s production of Glassheart, currently in the midst of a hot-selling run at The Atlas Performing Arts Center.
According to Rorschach Co-Artistic Director Randy Baker, that initial blush of love caught the company off guard. “Honestly it was strange that we fell in love with it so quickly. Usually with a new play from a playwright we haven’t heard of it before, usually it takes a long time to decide to do it. There have been plays that we’ve read and then wouldn’t do it until five years later.”
There would be no such delay for Glassheart, the area premiere of playwright Reina Hardy’s contemporary adaptation/deconstruction of Beauty and the Beast. Quoth Baker, “in October it was read and then it went into rehearsals in December.”
Luckily for Rorschach, playwright Reina Hardy returned the company’s affections. In fact, according to Baker, she’d been nursing something of a long-distance crush. “Strangely enough, Reina had actually seen This Storm Is What We Called Progress when she was in DC about five years ago so she was excited to hear from us. We jumped into it.”
Thus began an accelerated production process that has led to the show currently selling-out houses over at the Atlas. To helm the production, Rorschach turned to Lee Liebeskind, only recently a fully-fledged company member. After reading Hardy’s script, Liebeskind was happy to oblige. “She (Rorschach Co-Artistic Director Jenny McConnell-Frederick) and Randy sent me the script asking if I would be interested in directing. I immediately read it and fell in love with a lot of the themes (choice, destiny, love, and identity). This was just before Thanksgiving.”
With less than two months to opening night, it was on to casting. Liebeskind described the double-time audition process. “My day job is a casting director so making casting decisions comes pretty fast to me, so I think that was helpful. The big thing was that when we put out the casting invitations to audition, we put out 50 or so e-mails but a ton of people were already booked. So during auditions we saw maybe 20-25 people. It was actually really helpful because I got to spend some time and work with some people I hadn’t before, see how far I could push someone in an audition setting and see where people were willing to go and where they weren’t in the first moments.” From those auditions, a four-person cast was swiftly assembled, including Rorschach newcomers Lynette Rathnam, Natalie Cutcher and Andrew Keller as the lovelorn, now-centuries old Beast. “We did auditions, I think, a week and a half before rehearsals started so it was like “Uh, you’re cast! Come to rehearsals in one week.” added Baker.
The production tide began to roll. Cutcher (“Aiofe”) describes being swept in: “I’ve worked with Lee before with Inkwell, doing a couple readings and workshops of new material and we were both involved in the Source Festival this past summer. We’ve been dancing around each other for a while now. It was a very quick process. Just from invitation to casting. I didn’t go to a call back so it was kind of a whirlwind of an opportunity and thankfully just having this opportunity and a schedule that was willing to let me participate.”
Dealing with such an accelerated timetable, Liebeskind and Rorschach took the risky step of beginning the rehearsal process without a design team in place. According to Baker, “Some of them didn’t come on until after rehearsals had started. Staging began before we even had designers but it’s okay. It was fun and it was fresh and I think that the team that we ended up with was fantastic. A lot of the team is very close to us.”
Liebeskind was forthright about the challenges and pleasures of the swift production schedule. “The shortened production timeline meant that while we didn’t have designers on from early on, there weren’t a lot of conceptual production meetings so I had to just keep moving forward as new people came on board. It was helpful in that I could focus my rehearsals on the storytelling and acting and moments, and figuring out the characters and journeys with the actors to tell the story we were trying to shape. The difficulty was that I am still a relatively young director, so it takes me a little longer to consider and think about conceptual ideas and work with designers to achieve them.
Liebeskind credits his design team for taking the Beast by the horns, “the designers rocked. They totally jumped in and kicked butt and when we pushed them to move faster to get us something so we could work with it they raised to the occasion. And with this show there is moving set pieces, big lighting effects, elaborate sound effects, composed music, costumes that have to glow, and very detailed and important props. At every step the designers pushed to create something beautiful and within the vision we were all creating.”
The close-knit family dynamic Rorschach fosters is evident throughout the Glassheart production. That closeness comes with benefits and challenges that soon became apparent to the currently-engaged Liebeskind and Reichelt after she nailed her audition for the role of Only. As Reichelt describes: “It has certainly been interesting for me to navigate, trying not to bring too much rehearsal home, or home to rehearsal. While we have done shows together before, it has never been in a director/actor relationship, which has its own special dynamic. I would say it has many benefits, because he knows me really well. He has seen me act every professional show I have done, and so he knows all my bad habits and he calls me on them. I also feel like I need to be on my game all the time, both because he can tell when I am falling into old patterns, and because I feel even more than any other director/ actor relationship that I have had that we are a team and both working to make the show amazing. There is also six years of trust built up there, so I have found that when in some situations (being a special brand of introverted actor) I would balk at a piece of direction. With him, I am more likely to breathe and trust him and go for it.”
Cast members eagerly dug into Hardy’s decidedly contemporary and mature updates of classic characters, informed by their early experiences with the story. This very interview jogged a wonderful memory from Baker, offering insight into the origins of a young showman. “I remember being in Kindergarten, and there was this big picture book of Beauty & and the Beast and I remember that for some reason and I don’t even know why they let me do this, but for some reason I remember reading to the other kids. I really wanted to show off my reading ability or something. I remember reading the fairy tale to a bunch of other five year olds.”
Keller described the process of digging into this older, perhaps not wiser Beast, who has newly brought his quest to for a great curse-breaking love to American shores. “When this play opens, Beast is just desolate. This play is taking place now so this a Beast four or five hundred years old. There have been many Beauties, and not a single one, none of them has worked out and the desolation of Beast as been because 1) they haven’t worked out, and 2) Beast has loved every single one of them. And they’ve never worked. It has always ended in tears. Tears or blood or both. And so the Beast, at this particular point, is so lost in his depression that he doesn’t see a way out he doesn’t see a point in even trying.”
Cue Cutcher’s Aiofe, the curious young woman who arrival at Beast’s door searching for a lost pet jumpstarts Beast’s (and Only’s) quest. “This is her first big move. She’s young. She’s early 20’s so this is her first time getting out and about and creating a life for herself and this [Beast] is one of the neighbors that she meets in her apartment complex so I think there is a major need to make a connection and have this feel like home. And she’s young and innocent and thinks that anything is anything is possible so she can absolutely sweep in and help this stranger out”.
Thus begins a multi-way and high-stakes game of manipulation and potential salvation for Hardy’s characters, for which set designer Robbie Hayes has create a set based on classic game boards. Liebeskind describes the inspiration: “ I am a big fan of board games in general. Every month or so I get a group of people together and do a night of board games. So I love them.
Closes February 16, 2013
Rorschach Theatre at
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $20 – $30
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
“For Robbie it was a lot of “Dungeon and Dragons” (which I have only played once), for me it was a lot of “Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill” or “Lords of Waterdeep” or any of the complex board games. So the set is inspired by games. The stage floor while in the colors and patterns of apartments (red bricks, wood grains, grey linoleums) also looks a lot like a chess board or a RPG gaming board with 2×2 squares. The set pieces are all moveable and created to live in or across those squares and to move them into new patterns to force our characters into new situations. It is really subtle, but if you look for it, its there and adds another layer onto the show for those looking for it.”
For Liebeskind, all the quick decisions, short schedules and hard work have resulted a show for those looking for a fresh take on a classic story. “For me anyone that loves the fairy tale and likes to see stories they have reference points to, but see them in a different light, this is totally your play. If you like plays with really simple stories in very elaborate packages this is your play. If you like a good story and something that will keep you talking after the show about the perspective in which you saw the moments, this is your show.”