“In the Next Room, or the vibrator play” runs Sept. 25-Oct. 18 at Synchronicity Theatre at Peachtree Pointe in Midtown.
RACHEL AND DANIEL MAY have been together so long that they playfully debate just how long.
“No, dear, it was at least 1995,” she says.
“It was definitely ’94,” he says, “because I know when I started at Tech, and I know when I was involved in that show.”
“I … I just can’t believe it,” she says with a happy sigh.
What Rachel does remember from that spring day in 1994 is being exhausted when interviewing at Georgia Tech to direct Christopher Durang’s Baby With the Bathwater. She got the gig and, after the interview, she was invited to watch a performance of Brendan Behan’s The Hostage.
“I was sitting there, oh so tired, and they kept talking about the hostage, the hostage,” she recalls. “Well, finally they brought out the hostage. And I remember thinking the hostage was really cute.”
Daniel, of course, played the hostage.
“He captured my heart.” Another happy sigh.
Romance followed a friendship that involved lots of theater. He proposed in 1997, during the final curtain call for Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, staged by Theatrical Outfit at the 14th Street Playhouse. Rachel was stage managing and Daniel called her to join the cast onstage, then proposed in front of everyone.
The crowd went wild. OK, maybe not exactly. The audience heard a loud “clunk” because Rachel dropped her headset.
Fast forward to 18 years of marriage, and a full-fledged family life. The couple has three children: an 8-year-old daughter and twin boys who are nearly 6.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Their life is a “catch-as-catch-can” juggling act of auditions, meetings, rehearsals, film shoots and performances, along with the usual business of having kids in elementary school — from piano lessons to birthday parties, suppertime to bedtime stories.
“I just threw some chicken in the crockpot, so that’s taken care of,” Rachel announces. “The nice thing about both our jobs is flexibility,” she adds, “and the difficulty is flexibility. It’s hard to have a regular schedule.”
Daniel is a full-time actor who in recent years has focused on film and TV work. He played Allen, the fiercely protective father on Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” and has appeared in “Sleepy Hollow,” “Nashville,” “Drop Dead Diva,” “Being Mary Jane” and plenty more. Rachel co-founded Synchronicity Theatre some 18 years ago and remains its producing artistic director.
It’s clear these two are crazy about each other. There seems to be tremendous mutual respect. He’s patient when she’s talking, and vice versa.
They seem very comfortable in their commitment and connectedness. Which is hardly the case for another couple close to their hearts: Dr. Givings and his wife, Catherine, central characters in the 1880s-set sex comedy In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.
Rachel is directing Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer-nominated piece at Synchronicity for a second time. A 2011 staging became one of the theater company’s biggest successes; now, as Synchronicity begins a second full season in its own Midtown home, the time seemed right for a remount.
And this go-round she persuaded her No. 1 guy to play the buttoned-up Dr. Givings. He’s one of five new actors in the cast of seven.
The comedy, nominated for three Tony awards including best play, is set at the dawn of the age of electricity. While some people mistrust the new technology, the enthusiastically scientific Dr. Givings uses it to invent an apparatus to treat men and women with “hysteria.”
The doctor and his wife love each other, but are increasingly frustrated – sexually and otherwise.
Rachel calls In the Next Room, which is based on historic fact, “a luscious, delicious, amazing play” and relishes the chance to stage it with “a whole new group of actors who will bring brand-new spirits and brains to the process.”
While it’s a comedy and “wonderful love story,” it’s also examines motherhood “in all its pain and beauty. It’s also a little sexy — no, it’s a lot sexy,” she says, “as it looks at what it takes for this husband and wife to find one another. It really is about connection.”
‘BECAUSE I BEGGED HIM’
The production marks Daniel’s first time on an Atlanta stage in four years, although audiences and critics are likely to remember him singing in Cotton Patch Gospel, going a little crazy in Tracy Letts’ Bug and playing everyone from Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire and Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Hamlet and Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. He was a longtime member of Georgia Shakespeare’s acting company and remains an artistic associate at Actor’s Express.
So why is Dr. Givings the role to get him back onstage?
“Because I begged him,” Rachel says of the man she calls “a remarkable actor.” Her “favorite thing to do in the world is to watch him onstage. As an audience member, I’ve been missing that.
“Speaking as a director, he is an exciting and challenging actor to work with. As a producer, it was a smart business move to cast him, because he’s got a lot of fans.”
Daniel’s take: “I love the play, this role and the journey the character takes. I love the themes that involve, gosh, almost the invention of intimacy on the part of this character.” This too: “I’ve missed the intimacy of having that connection with an actual audience on a night-to-night basis.”
Rachel’s direction, he says, is dynamic, intuitive, always collaborative. “If you’re an artist in the room with her, she will not let you disengage. You always must be present and leaning into the work to get the story told. She’s always open to other people’s ideas and passions, and she’s amazing at harnessing that energy and pointing it in the right direction to make the show the best it can be.”
“Aww, thanks, honey,” she says.
Julie Bookman writes about the arts, entertainment and literature. She has been on staff at three daily newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and has interviewed everyone from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Liberace, and Mary Martin to Mikhail Baryshnikov.