“In this play, given the subject matter, you need to be comfortable with your partner, and know they have your back, and Katie is like my partner in crime.” Elan Zafir
Back when they were classmates at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting, Elan Zafir and Kathryn Tkel were friends and locker-neighbors and gabbed over the events of the day in between classes. The two were often on stage together, as well, paired as Petruchio and Kate in Taming of the Shrew, and Portia and Brutus in Julius Caesar—their chemistry undeniable.
“I liked Katie as soon as I met her in school and I think we had a really good relationship,” Zafir says. “Because of what we did in grad school, I think we were actually work friends, before even friend friends.”
When Rep Stage’s co-producing artistic director Joseph Ritsch was casting for the theatre’s season-opening production of David Ives’ two-person play, Venus in Fur, he saw the pair’s special connection and cast the long-time friends opposite one another again.
“I do believe Katie and Elan’s history of studying together at graduate school certainly fosters the amazing chemistry they have onstage,” Ritsch says. “But just because actors have studied or worked together before doesn’t guarantee such chemistry. These two actors have a deep trust in each other, which allows them to go to the sexual and dangerous places that Venus calls for. This pair is a director’s dream for a play like Venus in Fur.”
For Tkel, the part of Vanda was one she has been interested in since first seeing a production of the play at the Studio Theater in 2011. She also saw it on Broadway.
“I just really loved the part from the second I saw it,” she says. “She’s such a dynamic character and there’s a lot to her. The role is a marathon for an actress—you get to do so much, playing different people and moving back and forth with time periods—I knew it was something tailored for what an actress could bring to it.”
Although Zafir admits he didn’t have the same passion for the play that a lot of women who see it do, he was impressed by the show on Broadway and when he found out that Tkel was doing the part, he was excited about playing opposite her once more.
“I have lived in New York the last 13 years and moved here six months ago. This is now my third two-person show in a row,” says the actor, who wowed critics in Signature’s Tender Napalm this spring and his self-penned Ben & Lucile at the Capital Fringe Festival this summer.
The secret of doing a two-person play, the actor says, is that you can’t go out there thinking you are going to do the same as the last day or the last week—you need to listen to the director and other actor as hard as you can and play off them.
“It all becomes like a tennis match. You play off what the audience gives you and what the other actor gives you, and the ball comes flying at you and wherever you are, you have to play it,” he says. “It’s important to like the other person and how they think and come up with their answers. You know the lines and know what they are going to say, but you really need to like how they move and how their mind works and you see their personality shine through. Katie is great for that.”
Venus in Fur is the first duo show for Tkel, and is happy she has a trusted acting partner by her side.
“As an actor, you always have to be in the moment and listen to a response naturally, but when you’re aware that it’s just the two of you on stage for 90 minutes, there’s no time to think ahead,” she says. “You are forced to respond and listen and stay with each other from moment to moment. There’s something really special about that on stage.”
VENUS IN FUR
Closes October 19, 2014
Rep Stage in the
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Wednesdays thru Sundays
“I invited her but she said no.”
“He never invited me!”
“Are you sure?”
“We had already known each other pretty well so perhaps if it was someone else, we would have been more inclined to get together,” Zafir continues. “In this play, given the subject matter, you need to be comfortable with your partner, and know they have your back, and Katie is like my partner in crime.”
The play opens with Zafir’s writer/director character, Thomas Novachek, on the phone lamenting over the unqualified actresses that have auditioned for him on the day. Just as he’s about to call it a day, Tkel’s Vanda storms in and pleads for a chance to show him what she can do—even though she is clearly not right for the part. The two get caught up in the characters they are reading and the play takes some interesting and unexpected turns.
Tkel says there have been acting jobs she has tried out for in the past, which like the character of Vonda in the play, she knew she was wrong for.
“I go for stuff all the time that I am not right for. It’s more freeing because if I’m completely wrong for it, it’s an opportunity to meet people and do whatever I want for the reading because it’s more relaxing,” she says.
Zafir agrees: “It’s your chance to go balls to the walls,” he laughs. “I had an audition recently at Studio that I was really wrong for, and I didn’t get the part, but I just felt so free in the audition.”
Luckily, both actors were available for this play as Ritsch has already seen the pairing make magic together, and is excited about what people will think when they leave the theater.