As Blanche in GCP’s ‘Brighton Beach,’ L.A. transplant Lyndsey Rae finds a role to love
When Lyndsey Rae, a newcomer to the Fresno theater scene, was cast as Blanche in the new Good Company Players production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” she didn’t realize she’d be stepping into a role that had been played not once but twice by GCP veteran Karan Johnson, director of the show.
Pictured above: Lyndsey Rae, right, plays Blanche in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs.’ Photo: Good Company Players
That could have been a challenge. But these two “Blanches” have hit it off. I met both of them at the Revue for a leisurely, late-morning chat about the production, which is in its opening weekend at the 2nd Space Theatre.
Donald: Lyndsey, welcome to the Fresno theater scene.
Lyndsey: Thank you. I was excited to find it. I’m here because my husband got a residency at Saint Agnes. I moved to Fresno about 10 months ago from Los Angeles. I did a lot of acting there but actually took sort of a three-year hiatus to produce a film.
Donald: What’s the film?
Lyndsey: It’s called “Honeychild.” It’s about sex trafficking in America. It’s a mother-daughter story. The daughter was abused in her young childhood. She comes out to her mother to say this happened. Her mother ends up saying, “I was abused as well, but not only was I trafficked, I was prostituted at the age of 16. It’s really this heartbreaking family story that I really believe is happening all around us.
Donald: What made you decide to audition for Good Company?
Lyndsey: After being here for a few months, I just started looking around to see what the art scene was like. I learned about the Second Space Theatre and saw that they were doing “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” I love Neil Simon. The second play in the trilogy, “Biloxi Blues,” is one of my favorite plays, and I co-directed “Broadway Bound” in college. I decided to give it a whirl.
Donald: The play is autobiographical, right? Tell us about the Jerome family.
Karan: The play is set in Brooklyn in 1937 with the war oncoming, and that’s the big topic, I think, in everybody’s daily lives who pays attention to the news. The family consists of Kate and Jack, the parents, and Stanley and Eugene, the sons. Then there’s Blanche, Kate’s sister. Her husband died. She had nothing. He didn’t leave her anything — no insurance or anything. So Kate takes her and her two children in and they converted their whole house to create little tiny rooms for everyone. Eugene is a stand-in for Simon. He’s the narrator.
Donald: Lyndsey, what have you learned about Blanche?
Lyndsey: After I got the role I really started to dig deeper. She has my favorite character arc now. What she goes through is so close to the film I’m working on. She goes from being this victim and having such a victim mentality to really growing a pair. She says, This is my life, these are my children, and I need to take responsibility and do something about it. It’s such a beautiful character arc to me.
Donald: Karan, what is it like for you as a director to have someone completely new show up for auditions?
Karan: We hear the complaint all the time: We see the same old people over and over again. Well, we cast the best person at auditions, whether that’s someone who’s done lots of shows or someone who’s new. We do like it when someone new comes along. I’ve done lots and lots of roles over the years, but Blanche is my favorite part that I’ve ever played. It was really important to me to find someone who could bring her to life. Lindsey actually cried in auditions, and that doesn’t happen very often.
Donald:I read one critique of Blanche that described her as feeling as if she had been buried along with her husband.
Lyndsey: Yeah, that’s a very apt description. She actually says, “At this point it’s taken certain things to just get me to start living again.”
Donald: Karan, after playing Blanche twice, how did you feel about getting the “Brighton Beach” assignment?
Karan: I was excited. It’s a beautiful play. It’s riotously funny and really emotional at times. I love the way Simon does that.
Donald: Is your Blanch different than Lyndsey’s Blanche?
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Karan: Oh, yes. I’ve tried very hard not to shape what she’s doing unless it goes against my vision. I wanted her to create her voyage. I was a little more emotional, I think, when I played Blanche. But she gets there, boy.
Donald: Is it intimidating to have a director who’s played this role in the past?
Lyndsey: The first time we really met at the big company meeting, she told me that she had played Blanche, and I thought: This could go one of two ways. It could be really great or really scary. It’s been really great. I really appreciate that she lets me create my own Blanche. She lets us play around with our characters and not be afraid of trying things in rehearsal, which is good. I feel like the fact that she’s already played Blanche is a platform and a stepping stone for me. One thing I was hoping is she would be hard on me.
Karan: I can do that (laughs).
Lyndsey: Because she’s played the character she has more insights that I can draw from, so that’s been really nice.