When “Moth” hits the stage at the Studio Theatre next week, it will be a performance full of firsts. Not only is it the U.S. premiere of Declan Greene’s one-act, two-actor play, but it’s also the directorial debut of longtime D.C. actor Tom Story. And the two stars of the play, Allie Villareal and David Nate Goldman, are relative newcomers, too.
“The first time you do something, there’s a kind of energy around it, and somewhat of an ignorance, which can be blissful,” Story said. “It’s a chance to see people who are brand new at what they’re doing, which is exciting. I’m a brand new director, and they’re brand new actors.”
“Moth” is the story of two teenage outcasts persecuted by bullies. Together, they experience a traumatic event and spend the rest of the play trying to piece it back together from memory.
“At its heart, it’s a story about this love between two freaky kids,” said Story.
They slip in and out of character, playing themselves, their teachers, their tormentors, and traveling back and forth in time — a challenge for even an experienced director to put onstage.
“It certainly is more complicated than I think some first-time directors would want to tackle, just because the narrative is kind of kaleidoscopic,” he said. At the same time, that’s why he was so interested in the play. “I’m drawn to it because it could never really be a film. It’s told in such a theatrical way.”
For being so new at their jobs, Story, Villareal and Goldman seem to have it down pat, at least from the vantage point of a recent rehearsal. As they tried out their lines with sound effects, Goldman, 21, and Villareal, 24, ran a scene before their hallway-locker set, in sharp teen-speak dialogue.
“Whenever they talk about you at school, whenever I hear your name, even, I feel sick . . . like my heart just puked everywhere,” Villareal said as Claryssa, a goth girl.
“Gross!” said Goldman as Sebastian, her anime-obsessed, socially awkward friend.
Story tinkered with the sound effects, which range from background cafeteria chatter to a menacing, mechanical drone. “There’s something weird here, but there’s also something I like,” he said to the cast and crew. It’s the first time that sound effects have been under his purview.
“As an actor, you’re in charge of kind of one thing, which is that character, and how you’re going to breathe life into this person,” Story said. “As a director, you’re in charge of everything, really. You’re in charge of the actors and their process of creating characters, you’re in charge of the interpretation of the story, and the clarity of the story, and then you’re in charge of all of the design elements.”
Story, who is in his late 30s, was most recently seen on the Round House Theatre stage in “Seminar” and the Shakespeare Theatre’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” but directing has always been his long-term ambition. One of the hardest things about transitioning between the two professions, he said, is resisting the impulse to demonstrate how he would play the part. He said he has never acted out any part of the script for his cast.
“You can suggest things that you might do, but ultimately, they’re creating the thing,” he said. “So you have to help them create their version of it, and not the version that you would do if you were actually playing it.”
Wednesday through May 4 at Studio Theatre,
1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300. www.studiotheatre.org. $30-$35.