Thursday, January 31, 2013

20th Anniversary Memories: Rudolf II

Yvonne Roen and Timothy McCown Reynolds in Rudolf II
Yvonne Roen, who played Katerina in Rudolf II, the mistress to the emperor and the mother to his children, writes about the experience.  You may also remember Yvonne from Pangs of the Messiah, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Velvet Oratorio, and many other UTC61 productions.


The first step into the theater at the Bohemian National Hall was marked by the sound of shoe leather hitting elegant parquet. The tap echoed against the high ceilinged walls and my eyes traveled to the airy crystal chandeliers. This room invites reverence. Here was enough space for epic lust. Here was enough space for war. Here was enough space for heartbreak. So when Edward Einhorn wrote a script that encompassed power, sex, religion, astronomy, art, and alchemy, within a crumbling empire, here was perfect. Edward had been working on Rudolph II for several years. I first saw it at a table read in 2005. I fell in love with the script and with Katerina, the role I read in it.

The script underwent revisions over the next few years. We finally had a public reading of the script in 2008. Timothy McCown Reynolds came to play the title role and Henry Akona signed on to direct. We staged another public reading, this time at BNH, and in March 2010 we finally got to bring the play to production in that amazing hall. Timothy is a supple and powerful actor. Henry applies fierce intellect, genteel manners, and a naughty wit to directing, and he led us beautifully through rehearsals. By the time we got there, Edward’s script was already strong and he made it stronger through the process. The rest of the company of actors, musicians, technicians, and designers brought life and beauty to each day of building and performing Rudolph II. That ballroom lived up to it’s possibility. Nightly, I eschewed the reverent tap of shoe leather and scampered barefoot through the back stairways and over the red carpet that defined our playing space, wearing nothing but a long, sheer, silk nightgown. It was perfect.

You may be sensing about now that this is a love letter, and, if you are, you are right. Building and performing Katerina von Strada is an unmatched pleasure in my career. I literally squealed with joy and gave Timothy a full body embrace upon entering the first rehearsal. I could not believe we were actually finally going to do this. My anticipation for this production was immense. UTC61 came together, matched my anticipation and then produced a show that outstripped it on every level. Rarely do I get the chance to spend years letting a script and a character grow in my mind. Rudolph II afforded me that opportunity. Katerina was sexy and intelligent, heartbroken, politically saavy. She  moved with the confidence of a woman in full control of her body and the care of a person whose lifelong residence at an empirical court had taught her the nuance and manipulations of all forms of politics. She was a mother, a lover, an artist. She was close to me in many aspects and she forced me to stretch for so many others. I’ve not felt sexier, smarter, more playful, and more bereft in any other role. Henry plotted a line between the emperor’s mistress, his intimate friend, the mother of his children, and the emperor’s loyal servant, subject to his laws and whims. Then he helped me navigate its curves. Timothy’s Rudolph rapidly switched from one side of that line to the other, speeding along the curves and forcing me to follow or perish. Eric Oleson’s Rumpf provided an avuncular ally in the politics while attempting to turn a blind eye to the sex. Joe Gately played Tycho Brahe’s crass jokes with appropriate self importance and dismissiveness. Jack Schaub’s Philip was always a threat even when I saw the only other person at court who could understand my position. I didn’t interact directly with either Adriana Disman or Shelley Ray who played Lisbuse and Elizabeth Jane Weston, respectively, but we shared a dressing room and like the male company were talented and generous partners.

That’s the thing about Rudolph II, everything about it was a partnership. We each did our part and the result was the stunning collective breath of a company. I cannot think about this show without recalling the feel of Carla Gant’s silk nightgown, or Candace and her nightly knock on the door asking if I needed help lacing my corset; remembering the sound of Katherine Boynton, Rosalynd Darling, Mike Hill, Parker Scott, Phoebe Silva, and Sandy York singing on the balcony above the stage, or their quartet of instruments punctuating a half lit sex scene; calling to mind Ian Hill carefully plotting lighting instruments to moodily illuminate a thirty foot run of carpet, without blinding the audience who sat tennis-court style on either side of the playing space. I think about the huge and richly draped bed that provided our only set piece and still marvel that it appeared and disappeared nightly so that the embassy could have its ballroom back. I remember Karen Ott bringing in reams of historical research and seriously reviewing it one moment then laughing at human nature and sex the next. Berit Johnson fully appreciating and participating in the vigor of work and gently reminding us, like a good stage manager, that we had a timeline to stick to. Tom Berger weighed in with questions, thoughts and excitement. Lindsay Carter, James Isaac, and Romo Hallahan always had a joke or wink or hand when needed. This was truly a collective. Each moment was the work of everybody. Edward Einhorn reached into history, churned it through his imagination, and produced a sheaf of papers in the form of a script. Little by little, each of us gave our bit of vitality to this idea. The collective breath filled it up and expanded it to full resonance until each tiny moment was big enough to fill a two-story ballroom. We created gold. I believe they call that alchemy.

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