I’m here with Chris Merlino and Raechelle Egan from the cast of Counter/Top, Endstation’s latest new work, a play that takes place in Lynchburg’s Texas Inn.
Your two characters, Khent and Liza, are almost immediately antagonistic to each other, what about each other gets under your skin so quickly?
Raechelle Egan: I think it’s because I see beyond the picture Khent is putting up. Throughout the show it trickles in that he’s more than his facade, and I think I pride myself in knowing what kind of people they are when they come in, so when I start to feel like I can’t crack him…
Chris Merlino: I think that Khent is relatively passive, and he strives for a peaceful experience everywhere he goes. Liza gets under his skin because she seems to want to bother him for no reason. It’s pointless questions, really just to get a reaction out of him— one I would really not like to show.
Raechelle: He gets under my skin because he’s fake and I want to get to the bottom of it.
So that’s your relationship onstage, what is your chemistry like offstage?
Chris: I think our relationship offstage has grown since last year. I think we have a brother-sister relationship in the sense that we know how to get on each other’s nerves, but we never do it with a malicious intent—it’s always to spice up a mundane situation.
Raechelle: Yeah, for sure. We spend so much time together, we’ve already got Crab and Dolley [in Two Gentlemen], and that’s an interesting, very different duo. This year, it’s really worked to our advantage. I think it’s worked up our on-stage chemistry—
Chris: Because we’ve learned to be friends.
Raechelle: There’s this mutual respect, we both work hard to make the other person look good.
Chris: Because we work so closely together in both shows, it’s in our best interest to help the other person out.
This is the second new work you’ve done here, right behind Two Gents, how is that different from a show like Our Town, which you were both involved in last year?
Raechelle: What has been really great is that the playwright is there. You can ask her intention for the character and marry it with your own. It’s not like cheating, it doesn’t do the work for you, but it lets you have a more in-depth view into what’s going on. If something doesn’t feel right, you can change it and still keep the playwright’s intention. Our Town is well known and has been around for a while: people have played these characters often, whereas we’re originating roles in the new works. In Our Town, it’s more about staying true to the script, digging into what you can find in the script. You want to try to make it unique—
Chris: Working on a new work is more about exploring something as opposed to achieving something. When you have a play that’s well known, you definitely want to deliver a baseline product everybody knows and has seen and talks about, while with a new works it’s about “Let’s see what we can get out of this.”
Raechelle: With a new work, you turn to yourself first, and since you don’t have anywhere else to pull from initially, I feel like I put more of myself into those characters.
You mentioned Crab and Dolly a moment ago—you are a team in Two Gents, and are very much against each other in Counter/Top, how does it feel to make such a drastic change?
Raechelle: Yeah, it’s fun!
Chris: It definitely filters a lot of what we would probably do into a stage setting as opposed to real life. I think we get it out messing with each other on stage, so that by the time we’re done, we just want to chill.
Raechelle: Even the language is… well, Two Gents is PG, while this show is… not. The language has an energy to it, it’s quick—
Chris: It reveals a grittier side to our relationship.
Raechelle: We’ve been on a team in a show before, so it helps.
Counter/Top opens July 2nd at Lynchburg Park & Recreation’s Miller Center, with performances July 3rd, 9th, 10th, & 11th at 7:30 PM, and July 5th & 12th at 2:00 PM. Ticket information is available here <http://endstationtheatre.org/gettickets/>.