The Rappaccini Variations: Changing Roles

Eliza Poster

Fluorescent lights illuminate the inky walls of the Black Box Theater, revealing Spencer Kahn (10) sporting the characteristics of a 1930’s radio star. He saunters about the stage with his co-stars, boisterous and comical, but within a mere half hour, he returns to the spotlight as a solemn puppeteer, appearing to guide the apparently limp limbs of his now silent co-stars, who are playing the puppets.

Though changes in costumes and sets are common for most pieces of theater, it is rare that an actor strays from their original character, but in The Rappaccini Variations, an adaptation of a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story written by director and theater teacher Joseph Timko, each of the 20 actors play up to four roles.

“The reason that there is a surplus of roles is because he [Timko] wants everyone to do something meaningful,” Sarah Accocelli (10) said.

The changing of characters allows for the lines to be distributed equally among the actors so that unlike in traditional theater; there is not one central protagonist. “You can be a relatively main character in one, even though it’s an ensemble show, and in the next one you can be in the chorus,” Kahn said.

Each scene does not only change the cast of characters, but also the theatrical form. “There are three acts and every act has three scenes and every scene has a different style of theater.” Adam Frommer (9) said.

Ranging from contemporary to ballet to Noh Theater, a Japanese drama originated in the 14th century, each scene requires a totally different temperament for each actor.

Actors utilize tone and body language to differentiate the characters they play, Kahn said. Accocelli learned how to do this by thinking of each of her parts as an individual piece instead of parts of a whole, she said.

Timko’s unusual choice of style in this play allowed the actors to explore techniques and develop their skills, as he gave them freedom to portray their characters however they wanted. “It’s a very collaborative process where I let the actors try to bring as much as they can to each of the parts that they play,” he said.