For fans of the 1937 RKO movie version of “Stage Door,” it’s probably impossible to watch the stage play and not think of Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers.
Still, that’s exactly what Jennifer Van Iderstyne and Christine Loffredo are hoping for. And with Hollywood’s version drastically different from what playwrights George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber came up with for the stage, they just might pull it off.
“Usually, actors will object to watching the movie, but the play is so totally different from the movie I asked them to watch it,” said Joe Fava, who is directing the Schenectady Civic Players production beginning tonight at 8 p.m. at the Civic Playhouse and running through Feb. 3. “There are only a couple of things that are similar. I wanted everyone to watch it so they could notice the style, the look of the 1930s, and how women acted back then. This play is about attitude and style, and some of the younger girls might not understand that.”
Van Iderstyne and Loffredo play two actresses struggling to find some success in 1930s New York City. Along with 14 other women also dreaming of a theater career, they live at a New York City boarding house called the Footlights Club. The story focuses on their trials and tribulations, both personal and professional.
Optimism in tough times
“It’s a lighthearted, fast-moving piece with some very heavy moments,” said Van Iderstyne, who most recently performed at the Civic Playhouse in “Our Country is Good” last year. “It’s set during a time in our country’s history when some people were starving. Some were just having a hard time, but it’s about the spirit that people had back then and their ability to stay optimistic. I like to think of my character as the unsinkable Terry Randall.”
Randall is the character played in the movie by Hepburn, a 21-year-old actress who is not at all enticed by Hollywood and would rather remain in New York and perform on stage. Although Fava asked his cast to watch the movie, Van Iderstyne would admit to only taking a quick peek at the film.
“That’s usually not a part of my process, and I know I have very little in common with Katharine Hepburn,” she said. “This is an opportunity for me to make the character my own, and I don’t want to be intimidated by the great actress that she was.”
Loffredo, meanwhile, plays Jean Maitland, the character portrayed by Rogers on the screen. Like Van Iderstyne, she doesn’t like to watch a movie version of any play she’s in.
“I really don’t like watching the movie because I don’t want to be influenced in any way by what somebody did before me,” said Loffredo. “If the director says something, then that’s fine, but I want the character to be my own.
“I also know that the movie is so different from the play, my character is quite different than the Ginger Rogers character,” said Loffredo. “So Joe said if we wanted to watch the movie we could, just to see the gestures and the way females interacted with each other in the ’30s. Everyone was always talking on top of each other. So we’re trying to get that sorority-like feeling. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Cast of 26
“Stage Door” has a cast of 26, with 20 of the characters female. The age range is from 18 into the 40s, although only Terry’s age (she’s 21) is mentioned in the play.
“I’m 27, but I still get carded for Lotto tickets. So 21 isn’t that much of a stretch,” said Van Iderstyne, a Rotterdam native who went to Mohonasen High School and graduated from State University of New York College at Potsdam. “This has been a lot of fun because there are a lot of great women in this show with me.”
Loffredo’s character is older, although we don’t know exactly how much. The mother of two teenagers, Loffredo had never seen the movie and didn’t know that much about the play before reading for the part.
“I love the way the characters interact with each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of competition between the girls because each one wants to get the part and earn their place in the theater world, but they also care about each other. I think they’re all rooting for each other.”
Fava was a little concerned about having enough women audition for the play, but those fears were quickly eliminated, as well as his concerns about the two leads.
“I liked Jennifer’s style and just the way she looked,” said Fava. “I didn’t want to cast the play with a particular person in mind, but I knew Jennifer and I thought she’d be great for the lead. Christine read really well during her audition. She was totally right for the part.”
Loffredo said that young aspiring actresses should enjoy the play, as well as older people, male and female, who remember the time period.
“It’s a slice of life from the ’30s,” she said. The play ‘Rent’ is like the modern day version of ‘Stage Door.’ Everyone is struggling monetarily, and only a few of them have wonderful relationships with their boyfriends. I think older people will like it because of the clothes and the language, and the younger actresses might want to look at it to know how tough it can be. They might watch this and then think twice about making acting a career.”
Van Iderstyne, who works during the day as an Internet marketing manager in Troy, has acted since she was 9. At times, she has pondered the possibility of pursuing acting as a career, but has thought better of it.
“Every day I think about acting, but I also like to eat,” she said. “For me, acting is the thing that keeps me sane. If all I did was just work all day, I’d probably lose my mind. I love it, and it’s also the best way to meet some of the most amazing people in the world.”
Putting 20 women in dresses from the 1930s was a daunting task for Fava, who doubled as the costume manager and welcomed the challenge.
“I’ve always thought it was fun to work with period costumes,” said Fava. “We have over 150 costumes; so we were ready for this play. I thought it was a very interesting piece, and I wanted something from that pre-World War II period. This play perfectly fits the bill.”
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church Street, Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 2; 2:30 Feb. 3
HOW MUCH: $15 ($13 for students)
MORE INFO: 382-2081 or www.civicplayers.org
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Categories: Life and Arts