Connecting Characters: Two Actress, Two Plays, One Playwright
Philadelphia actors Alex Keiper and Rachel Camp are leading ladies in two Michael Hollinger plays currently playing in Philadelphia. Alex plays Christine in TouchTones, a world premiere musical, at the Arden Theatre Company and Rachel plays Maggie in Red Herring a comedy thriller at Act II Playhouse. Alex and Rachel chat about Hollinger’s style of storytelling, why these two comedies are relevant today, and making these characters their own.
Is this your first Michael Hollinger play?
Alex: It’s my second! I worked on Incorruptible, (or “. . .that play with the Monks”), right here at the Arden in the Spring of 2014, with Michael Doherty!
Rachel: Yes! I actually got to do a workshop of TouchTones back in May, and that was the first time that I’d gotten to play with one of Michael’s scripts, but Red Herring is the first of his piece’s that I’ve worked on in full-blown production.
How do you describe Michael’s style of storytelling?
Alex: Michael is a classically trained musician, so he writes plays the way composers write music. He hears it in his head and understands how language can flow, like notes in a song. Because of that musicality, the comedy just flows, so long as we are following his phrasing and punctuation. Structure will set you free!
Rachel: Michael is incredibly, incredibly clever in his use of language. He loves to unfold plot points and character development like unwrapping one of those enormous gift boxes that reveals a new, more intricate package with every new layer that you unveil. He has a gift for surprising the audience, turning the plot on a dime. His characters are so likable, and his jokes are so witty that his stories manage to be face paced and full at the same time.
What shows have you played together in and where?
Alex: Rachel and I have worked together in MANY capacities! Our first show together was Spelling Bee at Theatre Horizon back in 2010. At the Arden, we worked on Parade and Sideways Stories from the Wayside School. I’m so grateful for our friendship and deeply appreciate/trust her opinion. I ALWAYS want her there as part of the process.
Rachel: Alex and I have done a few pieces together, but not as many as I’d like! We met when we did The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Theatre Horizon in 2010. That was my first professional production out of college, and I was so grateful to work with such a stellar cast. Our other shows together were Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Parade at the Arden, and Side Show in 11th Hour’s Next Step Concert Series. I couldn’t begin to count the number of concerts, cabarets, and fundraisers we’ve sung for, which is probably why it feels like we’ve worked together many more times than we have!
Both plays are love stories. What is each story’s message about love? Relationships?
Alex: TouchTones is a story aboutlearning to accept who you are and how to embrace the things that make us human. It asks questions about fidelity, honesty and the chastity movement of the 1990’s. The couple in the story sees their world getting bigger as they learn the difference between sex and intimacy. If you are raised to believe that sex is shameful, then it’s hard to let go of those judgments for yourself and others.
Rachel: “Marriage is a mystery” is one of the repeated themes in Red Herring. I think Red Herring looks at marriage and relationships through as many different lenses of conflict as it can get its hands on, ruminating on how complex one’s own life is and how many obstacles can march their way into a connection with someone. That said, the play firmly stands on the side of love. For as chaotic, irrational, and imperfect as it can be, love is a necessary element of growth, joy, and human existence.
Will you get a chance to see each other’s performance?
Alex: Unfortunately, Red Herring closes before TouchTones. I’m so sad not to see her in this, a piece I know carries so much history with our community, plus she just makes me laugh! I envy the audiences at Act II Playhouse!
Rachel: Absolutely! Red Herring closes on the 19th before TouchTones ends – so I’ll have plenty of time to catch all the 90’s goodness.
What is something interesting you’ve discovered while workshopping this new musical?
Alex: It’s been a joy in so many ways. I’ve learned that Michael Hollinger and Robert Maggio are honest and open and willing to do whatever it takes to make their play better. Working on Incorruptible was a blast, but that play was already finished, it’s been exciting to be such a big part of the process with the writers, who are still making great changes. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with Manu (Director of TouchTones) and discover all the creative genius and buoyancy that she brings to a piece. Having worked on it for two years, I thought I understood who this character was and what she wanted, but Manu brought in a new energy that lifted me up and taught me more than I thought was possible about the play, the character, and theater on the whole. It has truly been a gift.
What is your favorite part in Red Herring?
Rachel: My favorite part of the show is a gorgeously crafted scene in Act II where I get to sit at a bar with David Ingram, who plays Andrei, a Russian spy. David is a masterclass in easy, full presence onstage. Our show is so fast-paced, and this Bar scene offers us a moment to sit and look and listen and breathe. The dialogue is so sharp, so funny, and so poignant. Every day after that scene, David and I meet backstage and connect with how good it feels to say those words.
Why do you think this story is relevant today?
Alex: I think we talk about shame a lot in today’s socially conscious world; how often do we feel shamed by others? How often do we shame ourselves? That conversation was just beginning in 1999, and now we have a real vocabulary for how to deal with those issues. But before we were all that aware and connected, we had to find the language for ourselves.
What about Red Herring resonates with you?
Rachel: My character Maggie begins the play with the belief that there are parts of her life story that are shameful and need to be hidden. In pondering this question, I realized that one of the things I like most about playing her is that she ultimately chooses the path of vulnerability and honesty. She chooses to trust love instead of fearing shame. I think that her honesty, her faith in her partner, and her commitment to living authentically despite hardship are all elements that resonate with me, either in practice or hope for my own life.
See Alex Keiper in TouchTones
Story by Michael Hollinger & Robert Maggio
Book & lyrics by Michael Hollinger
Music by Robert Maggio
Directed by Emmanuelle Delpech
On the Arcadia Stage
Now thru – December 3, 2017
A new musical comedy about love, sex, and the fantasy at the other end of the line…
It’s 1999, the cusp of a new millennium, and technology promises intimacy as well as anonymity. Christine and her fiancé Justin wander into this titillating world of role-play, secret delights, and shifting identities; but who will they be when they come out again? (And will they recognize themselves?)
Contains adult language and themes, including sexual situations.
Buy tickets: http://tinyurl.com/ybg3lfa3
See Rachel Camp in Red Herring
by Michael Hollinger
directed by David Bradley
October 24 -November 19, 2017
Three love stories … plus a murder mystery and nuclear espionage plot. A hilarious noir comedy about marriage and other explosive devices.
Contains Gunshots, Herbal Cigarettes, and Adult Content
Info and tickets: http://tinyurl.com/yc66ank2