Jackson hadn’t read the play before he auditioned. Gardner said she’d never even heard of it.
“It’s not one of Tennessee Williams’s ‘safe bet’-type plays,” Jackson said. “The Two Character Play” plot is confusing and even convoluted (Jackson describes it as “a Russian nesting doll of performance.”) Jackson and Gardner play Felice and Claire, a brother-and-sister acting duo. The two are codependent, traumatized by the bloody deaths of their parents. They slip and slide back and forth between illusion and reality as they perform a play within the play, which is also called “The Two-Character Play,” in which Felice and Claire play a brother and sister named (. . . wait for it) Felice and Claire.
“No one knows what actually is going on here,” Gardner said. “It’s impenetrable.”
Though Gardner and Jackson auditioned separately, both say their shared history has been an asset to the production.
“We have a family connection. We’re very close. We see a lot of each other,” Jackson said. “This is the first time we’ve worked onstage together for a long time, but because we have a personal history with each other — which is certainly not a sibling history, we were a couple —but the aftermath of that is, you do have an intimacy and a mutual understanding and knowledge of each other.”
“It made the working process really easy, because there was no having to ‘get to know you’ and ‘be polite to another actor’ phase,” Gardner said.
“It was a little hard at first [to] not be self-conscious about being vulnerable,” she said. “Because although David and I are great co-parents . . . we had put distance between ourselves since we broke up. . . . To have to be vulnerable with him again after a long time, that took me a while to have to go: Okay, just get over that. And that was just a shyness on my part. And once I identified that . . . I think that we’ve been great together.”
“We understand each other’s approaches and techniques,” Jackson said. “I think there’s a certain shorthand involved. . . . And because of knowing each other emotionally as well, it does add a resonance to the dynamic between the characters.”
“The Two-Character Play” deals with the fallout of messy family history.
“We discovered that, in the play, Felice and Claire’s memory of what happened to them don’t have to be the same,” Gardner said. “There’s things that we acknowledge happened, but there’s a big old mystery about things that are never explained. Our rationale for those doesn’t have to be the same. And that made it easier for me to go, oh, my memory can be this, and this plot and this reference make sense to me, and that’s what that’s about, even if it doesn’t have to match David’s [memory]. Otherwise we’d be playing psychopaths.”