Orange is the new safe word, or in this case, orange is the safe word in an all-woman-acted play called “Orange!” about the rules of power, sexual fantasy and submission. “Orange!” is also the first in a night of parlor plays written and directed by What Weekly’s own Peter Davis. The play stars Jessica Ruth Baker, who plays Tommy, role-playing a dominant or domme who wants to spice up her relationship with her girlfriend Betty, role- playing a submissive. The girlfriend is played by DC actor Rebecca Henry. The tension builds as both Betty and Tommy seem confused about the rules of the “game”, or do they?
The other short play, Number 9, is a play about an elderly and retired Batman (Peter Davis) and a retired Robin (actress Alexandra Hewett) who’s apparently just one, Number 9 to be precise, in a long line of apparently expendable Bat side-kicks. The two reconnect and struggle over whether they should return to their glory days and give crime fighting one more go.
Davis acts in one of the pieces, directs both, and wrote both. You may wonder how his two short plays relate. How do sexual fantasy’s and retired DC comic characters relate to each other? Peter Davis said: “At their core, both plays are tender love stories. Both plays involve masks. In one play a couple takes the mask off and the in the other play someone puts one on. When this happens each sees themselves and their partners differently, more honestly. The act of pretending provokes the truth. Another common idea is power. In one play it is exchanged and in the other it is transferred.”
I also had a chance to ask a few questions of the cast. Actors Jessica Ruth Baker and Alexandra Hewett have both worked with producer, playwright, director and actor Peter Davis before. I wanted to see what it was like to work with him, what was the draw that’s brought them back?
Actor Jessica Ruth Baker replied: “When I’m working on a Peter Davis piece, I find that I challenge myself to do the unexpected, to try the most difficult path for my character, because in that, we find truth. Peter and I tend to have similar ideas about characters, and we’ve had several instances during this rehearsal process where we would respond to a question in unison. Being in sync with a director is the best!”
Actor Alexandra Hewett agreed and went further: “As an actor it’s a privilege to meet the playwright. There is opportunity to give input and help shape the play. Theatre is such a collaborative art; actor, director and playwright all need each other to tell the story.”
Both of these short plays are a dance between two actors, I wondered what the allure was for an actor to such a situation or set up?
Actor Jessica Ruth Baker replied: “Doing a two-person show is challenging, yet rewarding. You only have each other, to rely on, to focus on, so that you can’t waste any of your time onstage together. I love thinking about it as a dance, a pas de deux, where we are responding to each other constantly, with no time for ourselves.”
Actor and full-time opera singer Rebecca Henry travels from DC to be part of the part of the production. I asked her how she reconciles her two worlds. Rebecca replied: “As a singers we are expected to be both skillful singers and skillful actors. Because of these demands, I’m continually looking for opportunities to continue to hone my craft. I’m always working with text in singing but the interpretation of the words is greatly affected by the choices of the composer. In straight theater there is a greater freedom of choice and the play can go in so many different directions depending on how the actors choose to say the words. Participating in Peter’s project seemed the perfect opportunity to exercise my acting chops and continue to grow as a performer.”
I love when plays are presented in atypical environments, and I asked Peter, “What is the allure or the challenge in it?” Peter replied, “The allure when you find a very cool space is that it looks and feels like it was designed exactly for your story. Also alluring is that the audience is charmed by the space and wonders how the play will unfold in it. The challenges are operational, and making the performers and the audience comfortable on a DIY budget.”
The Parlor Plays will be shown at Church and Company, at the corner of 37th and Falls Road, in the space above The Hunting Ground vintage clothing store. The show runs Friday May 9th and Saturday May 10th with performances each night at 7 PM and 9pm. There’s also a preview Thursday May 8th at 8pm.