Hillary Clemens and Andrew Carter are two busy Chicago area actors who never actually met until they auditioned for roles at the Asolo Repertory Theatre this season.
Now, they spend just about every day together appearing as three drastically different kinds of couples in three of the company’s winter repertory shows. There’s been a lot of “getting to know you” since rehearsals started late last year.
In the season-opening (but now-closed) “Once in a Lifetime,” (read my review) they played vaudeville partners who gave up their act to cash in on Hollywood’s transformation from silent pictures to talkies. Clemens’ Mae was sharp-witted and too smart for Hollyweird, and even though we know she should be running the studio, all she really cares about is getting together with Carter’s Jerry, who has temporarily brushed her aside while he tries to figure out how the movie business works.
It’s an odd romantic relationship in the Kaufman and Hart play — I actually thought Mae was more suited to the despondent playwright she befriends on a train — but it does make sense when she and Jerry finally come together at the end.
They also come together at the end of their latest production, Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels,” in which they play an actual husband and wife, even if they’re barely on stage together for 10 minutes.
Their Jane and Will have been married a few years and they are already feeling the doldrums. They love each other, but they’re not so passionately “in love” with each other. That’s particularly true for Jane, who is giddy at the prospect of a visit from a former lover, a Frenchman.
And then there’s the oddest relationship they share in each performance of “Yentl,” in which Clemens plays a young woman pretending to be a boy named Anshel so she can study the Torah in her religious Eastern European community at a time when women were forbidden to study.
When Anshel meets Avigdor (played by Carter), Yentl starts having her first feelings of attraction and she doesn’t know what to do with them, or how to hide them beneath her masquerade. Avigdor has similar feelings and doesn’t understand why he’s suddenly attracted to a boy or young man.
There may not be anything really similar among each of their three characters — except perhaps an inner resilience for Clemens’ roles — but the more time Carter and Clemens have spent together on stage and in rehearsals, the more connected they have felt.
“It’s fun, this relationship,” Carter said. “It can go sour real fast with the wrong people working together so much. We’ve been very fortunate to get on so well.”
Clemens said that, as usually happens the longer actors work together, “all the relationships have deepened and grown and sharpened because the actors have now spent a month or two months together. It’s a subtle thing, but you see it because the actors are all using their brains and hearts and history.”
But there’s a difference when the two actors are paired up, even in different ways, in each show they perform.
“The more we work together, the more specific all the relationships get, not only are Avigdor and Yentl informing Jane and Willie, but everything else,” Clemens said. “We’re working almost every day together and seeing each other and telling stories on stage together and that is making us more familiar and comfortable with each other; that opens up more possibilities to what we can do.”
They had a good sense things might work out when they read together at their callback auditions.
“Hillary was exceptionally prepared; that really spoke volumes,” Carter said. “We could just throw stuff at each other and explore and experiment and (Producing Artistic Director) Michael (Edwards) was really excited by that. If one of us had shown up even 10 percent less prepared than the other one, it would have been a lot more difficult and I could tell that Hillary was taking this as seriously as I was.”
“Yentl” continues through April 26, and “Fallen Angels” continues through May 13 at Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information: 351-8000; asolorep.org