Two plays, two directors and one core cast.
The math adds up in repertory theater: One cast performs two different plays on alternating nights.
Which will be the case when Swine Palace opens Anton Checkov's classic "The Seagull" on Wednesday, March 22, followed by the opening of Aaron Posner's "Stupid F***ing Bird" on Thursday, March 23.
Posner's story is a modernized retelling of Checkov's 1896 tale of artistic and romantic conflicts in a theatrical family.
"In jazz, you have the riff, and Posner's play is a riff on Checkov's play," says Gavin Cameron-Webb, director of "The Seagull." "The actors have to remember their lines in both plays, but they never mix up their lines."
Well, almost never.
Cate Davis, of Ashville, Oregon, plays Arkadina in "Seagull" and Emma in "Bird." Both characters are the matriarchs, and their lines are similar.
Before stepping on to the stage, Davis has to stop and think about the distinctive characteristics of each character.
"The plays follow the same story, so there are lines that are almost the same," Davis says. "In my mind, these two characters are different, and I have to think about what makes them different. In 'The Seagull,' Arkadina wraps a bandage around her son's head, but in 'Stupid Bird,' Emma doesn't do it, because she doesn't want to get her hands bloody. Still, I believe both of these women adores her kid so much."
Checkov's play focuses on the fading actress Arkadina, who is vacationing at the estate of her brother, Sorin, played by Tom Anderson, whose health is failing. At the estate, Arkadina's son, Konstantine, played by Lance Rasmussen, is staging a play using a new theatrical form starring Nina, played by Cara Reid, whose heart he tries to win with a dead seagull.
Arkadina scoffs at the play, which sends the rest of the story in a dramatic spiral.
In Posner's "Stupid F***ing Bird," first staged in 2013, the playwright Con considers his famous actress mother hopelessly commercial. He's in love with Nina, and like his counterpart Konstantine in "The Seagull," tries to win her heart with a dead bird.
"The difference between the plays is how Checkov left a lot to subtext, and 'Bird' is how the subtext plays out in Aaron Posner's mind," Davis says. "A lot of the subtext overlaps."
But that's how Posner writes, and Davis has previously worked with him on one of his plays.
"We keep in touch, but I've barely spoken to him about my character in this play," Davis says. "He's really busy right now, and, besides, Gavin has been talking to him, and as an actor, I don't want to overstep my boundaries when the director is talking to the playwright."
Though Cameron-Webb is directing "The Seagull," he has spent time watching rehearsals for "Stupid F***ing Bird," directed by Risa Brainin. Both directors traveled from California to work with Swine Palace, and both have a connection with the company.
Cameron-Webb is tied to Swine Palace through his wife, Jane Page, who directed the company's 2014 production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons."
"I'm also a graduate of the University of New Orleans, so I'm well familiar with Louisiana," Cameron-Webb says.
Brainin was a college professor to Karli Henderson, the company's associate managing director and director of development and marketing.
Both directors also have worked extensively around the nation. Cameron-Webb has served as the artistic director for the Studio Arena Theatre for 13 years, and Brainin currently is the chair of the theatre department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and previously served as the artistic director for Shakespeare Santa Cruz.
"This is my first visit to Louisiana, and I've loved it," she says. "I love the food here. I keep going back to City Pork."
Guest artist Brennan Kelleher, who plays Dev in "Stupid Bird," agrees.
"My wife and I are foodies, and we've been trying out the restaurants here," he says.
Kelleher traveled from Los Angeles to perform in "Bird." He describes his character as the comic relief.
"He's the observer," Kelleher says. "He's in love with Mash, who's in love with Con. He's on the outside, so it's easy for him to have insight into the others."
Also participating are two guest designers. Ron Keller is the scenic designer for both shows and has worked with Swine Palace on "The Royal Family" in 2012 and "Shiloh Rules" in 2004. Devon Painter, of New York, is the costume designer for "Bird."
"We have four scenes for 'The Seagull,' and there's a different set for each scene," Cameron-Webb says. "So, we have a lot extensive set changes."
"There are definitely a lot of moving parts to these productions," Brainin adds. "And it's been great working with Swine Palace's mix of students and professionals. It's all coming together with this cast."