For the next three weekends, Judith Hawking and Kurt Rhoads will play Joan and Harry, one of two couples in John Kolvenbach’s “Love Song” at Hudson Stage Company in Briarcliff Manor.
Hawking, a Canadian by birth, has been a New York actress for years and lists among her credits having completed the Triple Crown of “Law & Order” series. She now lives in Peekskill. Rhoads, well-known to local audiences as a much-loved fixture at Garrison’s Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company, lives in Garrison with his wife, actress Nance Williamson.
Because Hudson Stage hires New York City actors, it rehearses in New York City, meaning that the actors from the ‘burbs, Hawking and Rhoads, had to commute in daily for director Dan Foster’s rehearsals. (Foster lives in Croton-on-Hudson.)
Hawking and Rhoads became Hudson Line commuters on Metro-North and they used the train rides in and back to practice their lines, drawing looks of concern from fellow Hudson Line passengers. Let’s just say some of Kolvenbach’s dialogue is not exactly G-rated.
“We got our share of looks,” Hawking says with a laugh. “At one point we were doing the lines and it was adorable because this guy really thought we were this couple having an argument.”
Hawking’s character, Joan, rips into Harry with regularity, using less than loving words and tones, rattling off a rapid-fire example: “I was like ‘Stop with the nitpicking and the ****ing parsing and you know what you’ll do? You’ll find a way to make it self-evident and irrefutable. And do you know what it is? It’s just annoying.’
“And this guy looks at Kurt like, ‘You poor bastard. I’d leave her now if I were you.’”
Rhoads says Harry can handle Joan, even if doesn’t sound like it on the train.
“Nance has told me for years that I’m terrible guy on the train because I do it just a little bit too loud,” he says. “I noticed (Hawking) was getting closer and closer and trying to whisper, so it must have been me that was being too loud.”
“I think Harry’s found a way to deal with this woman who’s a bit out of her mind at times and spins off into crisis mode and kind of lives there. He’s a rudder force in the relationship,” he says. “They’ve found some kind of dance that they like to do. It’s not quite as cutthroat as George and Martha in ‘Virginia Woolf,’ but it reminds me of that sometimes.”
Rhoads was unfamiliar with “Love Song,” but learned that a Hudson Valley Shakespeare colleague, Gabra Zackman, had played Joan in a production in Cincinnati.
“Her take was that the women parts were much harder than the man parts,” Rhoads says in mock disgust.
Rhoads says he had been trying to work at Hudson Stage for awhile, but his schedule hadn’t allowed it till now.
“I had a friend in “Kimberly Akimbo” and I saw that. And I had a friend in ‘After All,’ so I saw that, too,” he said. “(Producers) Denise (Bessette) and Olivia (Sklar) have been very supportive of us at Hudson Valley. And True North, this little play-reading company that I’m part of, we’ve used Hudson Stage as a model. They’re just much more organized than we are.”
As it happens, the final week of “Love Song” overlaps with Rhoads’ duties directing “The Taming of the Shrew” for Hudson Valley Shakespeare, so he’ll be rehearsing Shakespeare during the day and playing “Love Song” at night the final week of the run. When Hudson Valley guru Terrence O’Brien was having trouble finding a costume designer, Rhoads suggested Amy Clark, who designed the costumes for “Love Song.”
“It’s all serendipity,” Rhoads says. (Read a story about Hudson Stage’s resident set designer here.)
Hawking says Kolvenbach’s play is “intelligent, funny, scathing and weird and if you do justice to the play people will come away — as many different people as there are in these seats — everyone’s going to have an amazing ride. And that’s really important. Sometimes, if it’s not a unified ride, if you can’t say ‘It’s exactly about this’ and put your thumb on it, in New York they freak out about it.”
The actress praised the playwright’s style.
“He’s so inventive that what he’s allowed you to do is almost like internal channel surfing. You’re watching one picture and then you get to click it and find out what’s going on and then you watch the other picture again. I think we do that in life all the time. When you see it on a page it looks foreign, but when you play it, it’s very real. I think he’s a terrific writer.”
(Photo by Gerry Goodstein: Kurt Rhoads (as Harry) teaches Judith Hawking (as Joan) how to call in sick in “Love Song,” the spring mainstage production at Hudson Stage. The play opens tonight for a three-weekend run.)