Nora Achrati considers herself “very much a character actor.”
“I was very intrigued by the premise of Mystery School and the opportunity to play these very different characters,” she says, speaking of the chance to inhabit five colorful characters in Paul Selig’s one-woman show, Mystery School. “I read the script and there was so much that resonated with me.”
Directed by Aly B. Ettman, Mystery School is comprised of these five unique characters involved in spirituality or religion in some way, ranging from blatant fraud to egotism to hope and love.
“It presents five cosmic views and five individual crises that get solved,” Achrati says. “One character is a very conservative church goer, another is going through addiction issues, one is very into the new-age philosophy and practice. Each is speaking in different circumstances as well. One is delivering a commencement speech, one is at an AA meeting…and the themes of world view and cosmology emerge for each of them.”
Interpreting the writing was the first challenge Achrati faced, as she wanted to be sure to replicate the characters Selig had envisioned.
“The playwright writes very densely and very richly,” she says. “It’s been a very active thing, breaking it all down. He’s given us two Jewish characters based in New York—not from the same background, but with similar speech patterns and you have to make sure you don’t end up sounding the same. I also had to land on two different southern identities. Differentiating characters from the same general location is hard.”
For instance, there’s the hotel room cleaner who seems to think that everyone else in town is damned—and has some evidence from her job—and Dr. Edie, who’s told by an apparently divine voice to become a dedicated educator. Achrati admits changing from character to character was also challenge, as each one is so very different and the energy shift so great, so getting the personalities just right took some work.
from Edge of the Universe Players 2
closes November 19, 2017
Details and tickets
“I’m a very outside-in worker so I wanted to map everything out and land on a voice. I worked on gestures and experimented with each character,” she says. “In a regular play, you are on your feet discovering everything. This was all internal blocking. It’s five monologues and I needed to sort of figure out the body language and how to differentiate all of that.”
Collaborating with Ettman played a big role in that, as her director made sure that each character was engaging.
“These characters aren’t really in direct dialogue with one another but are in direct dialogue with the audience and I hope they hear the perspectives and do whatever they want with them—laugh, cry, dismiss, join,” Achrati says. “We’re looking at the big questions and giving a view of the universe and sense of purpose here. I don’t know if it will help people make sense of what’s going on in the world right now, but I think it will help open them up to asking important questions.”
Achrati’s well known in the area for her work with New Moon Theater, the touring children’s company based in Baltimore, writing and performing folktale-based plays for children, and also for being an ensemble member with Forum Theatre in D.C. Her latest role was in Death of a Salesman, which closed last weekend.
“I’ve done a lot of children’s theater and a lot of voice work, and each year I’ve been lucky enough to tackle something new and bigger and different,” she says. “One year I had to replace someone in a Shakespeare production and needed to learn six roles in a few weeks. Something like Mystery School is new and hopefully stretching me.”
This is her first one-woman show for adults and she encourages people to come out and experience a thought- and feeling-provoking experience.
“We’re trying to give the audience the chance to reflect on what they identify with, what they don’t and why,” she says. “We’re living in a time when people have vastly different views and we have so much trouble talking to each other. I’m hoping people will recognize themselves in at least one of the characters and in those they don’t, hoping they are at least able to come away with some empathy for those characters.”