Acting couple, Tara Franklin and James Barry, make it work on stage and off
PITTSFIELD >> Chester Theatre Company's production of John Kolvenbach's "Sister Play" may not be the first time real-life husband-and-wife actors Tara Franklin and James Barry have been in the same play together. It is, however, the first time they've play sustained scenes with one another. And as husband-and-wife characters, no less.
In "Sister Play," which opened Wednesday and runs through Aug. 14, Franklin plays Anna, a thirtysomething woman who is married to a 40-year-old novelist named Malcolm, played by Barry. They have come to a well-worn Cape Cod cabin that belonged to Anna's late father for the annual family get-together, which includes Anna's younger sister, Lilly, played by Therese Plaehn. They will be joined by a stranger named William Casey, played by Justin Campbell, whom Lilly picks up and brings home and whose presence will tip the already unsteady balance in the family.
"This is quite an opportunity for me," said Franklin, who is accustomed to sitting in the audience at Chester Town Hall performing on stage, which he has done twice before — "Wittenberg" in 2011 and "Arms on Fire" in 2013.
Anna also is a marked change from the last wife Franklin played on a Berkshires stage — Ruth in last season's "The Homecoming" at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre.
"I talk a lot in this play," Franklin said during a joint interview with her husband over a light lunch in Pittsfield. They were accompanied by their five-year-old son, Sam, who busied himself on his tablet.
"Kolvenbach's characters just speak what's on their minds, sometimes when they're not supposed to, and they hurt people.
"In 'The Homecoming,' Pinter's characters speak very carefully. There is much silence."
Barry describes Malcolm as being "very much in love with Anna. He's sandwiched between her and his sister-in-law. When he's alone, he gets to reveal (a different) side of his personality."
Barry and Franklin have been married seven years. They've known each other since they met in 2000 when they appeared together in "The Einstein Project" at Berkshire Theatre Group.
"We've known each other a long time," Barry said. "Part of the challenge for us in playing Malcolm and Anna is finding out how they relate to each other in quiet moments; ways that are unique to them."
Franklin was born and raised in Dalton and has family there. Barry has family in Mansfield, Conn. The couple have just left Brooklyn and moved full-time to Williamstown. Part of the reason has to do with Sam, who will be entering kindergarten in the fall.
"Our agents are okay with this," Barry said, laughing. Albany International Airport is only an hour away. That's key. They are often away from home working, generally not at the same time. Barry's been playing Carl Perkins in the national tour of "Million Dollar Quartet," to which he will return when the show plays Ogunquit, Me. Franklin spent two years in "Sleep No More" for Punchdrunk @ McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan.
"From where we were living in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Manhattan was an hour away," Franklin noted.
Her career has taken her to Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs, and Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago.
In addition to the national tour of "Million Dollar Quartet," Barry has performed at regional theaters in Chicago and Kansas City, among others.
They have strong family support systems in place and, Barry says, when "I am home, I am totally with Sam, completely."
"I think Sam is experiencing things he wouldn't normally," Franklin said. "He's been on tour with us so he's gotten to meet people and see places many children his age wouldn't have met or seen.
"This is what he's growing up with. You just make it work — and we do."
What: "Sister Play" by John Kolvenbach. Directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer
Who: Chester Theatre Company
Where: Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester
When: Now through Aug. 14. Evenings — Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 2
Tickets: $37.50; Chester resident/student rush — $10
How: 1-800-595-4849; chestertheatre.org
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