Sisters at PlaybyYKN4949©
Chapter 1: Casting
"Eliza! It is so good to see you, Pete Forrester said as I walked into the theater. He smiled brightly and then walked up and extended his hand. I took it. There were a few other people in the room and they turned to look at me.
"Good to see you Pete," I said cheerfully, and it was. It was good to be back in New York and it was better to be working in theater again. Even if it was a little, off-Broadway production.
"How was your flight?" he asked and I sort of made raspberry sound with my lips.
"I've never been able to sleep in planes and a flight from Tokyo is absolute Hell," I explained and he nodded sympathetically. I'd just finished filming a minor part in a major production that was shot primarily in Tokyo. It hadn't been particularly glamorous, but it would pay the bills while I took some chances with my craft.
"Well we are glad you are here," Pete said and we walked down towards the stage. I recognized a couple of people from small productions I'd done earlier in my career and I waved to them. I'd started in small theaters, scrounging to get parts and supplementing my income with waitressing jobs. And now I was back, trying to recapture some of that old energy.
Seeing all those people reminded me that I was 32 years old it was starting look like I'd never get my acting career where I wanted it to be. That is not to say I hadn't been successful. After all, like I said I'd just had a bit part in a major Hollywood production. More importantly, I'd been cast in several theatrical productions, including two Broadway shows earlier in my career. I'd also been on television several times, most interestingly I was on a courtroom drama that got picked up by CBS for 13 episodes but got cancelled after six. I was a hotshot young attorney, pretty standard stuff. So a couple months in LA, burning through my savings, then back to New York where I felt safe. I also played a witness during one episode and a suspect in another episode of Law and Order back before they cancelled the show, but I think like 90% of actors in New York were on at least one episode of that. So I had some chances, but nothing had ever really panned out long term.
And now I was 32 (have I already said that, God I am already talking like an old actress. No I am 26...just kidding) and I wanted to do something that would make people change the way I thought of me. I felt that I was attractive enough to be a leading lady, or at least a major character actor in the movies. I was 5'3 and 120lbs, I had long straight black hair and blue eyes. My skin was naturally dark and my face has a natural innocence about it. My eyes were big, my nose was small, my lips were thick, and my teeth were white. Not to mention I had large, C-cup breasts, curvy hips, and a perfect ass. I had the right look; I just didn't have the right buzz. I was just another New York actress, maybe with a few more credits than some, a few less than others. When people thought of me they thought "Where have I seen that girl before, she's kind of cute." But no one knew my name.
So I'd been looking for something different, something with an edge, something that would get me some interesting press for once. And just when I'd gotten the part for the movie in Tokyo I'd gotten a call from a friend, Pete, who'd been an actor when I first moved to New York when I was 18. He was now shifting into writing and directing and he told me about a play he'd written that he thought I'd be perfect for in the starring role. He was a no-name as a director and he had a miniscule budget. Now I wasn't a big star or anything, but getting me would prove he was serious. Not just Community Theater or something.
He told me I would play a powerful closeted lesbian woman and the show was about power dynamics, gender, and sex. I read the script and I knew it was just what I'd been looking for. Something different, something somewhat artsy but very sexy, and, most importantly, something purposefully provocative. The play contained two separate simulated lesbian sex scenes. Yes, they were a little bit gratuitous, but they weren't not completely divorced from plot. Plus, like I said, it was provocative. If nothing else, we'd get a little press for being controversial. And trust me, when it comes to being an actor no press is bad press. But I really thought it was a good play beyond that. I think it had a lot to say about cultural repression of natural sexual desires and how sex tinges all human relationships, even if you can't see it clearly. But I think, really, the plot of the play is beside the point for this little story.
I hadn't really processed the fact that I'd be nude on stage, pretending to have sex with another woman. Both of those were firsts for me. But that was what I was trying to do, show that I was ballsy and versatile. Plus, I was a professional and I trusted Pete. He might be trying to be edgy, but I didn't think he was going to be too overtly porny. I'd accepted his offer as soon as I finished reading the script. I was a little disappointed that I would be in Tokyo when the rest of casting was going on, especially for the girl who would play my love interest in the play. Normally, the production wouldn't cast anyone who they couldn't be sure would have chemistry with the star, but Pete said he felt he knew me well enough that he'd get the right person. So I'd gone to Tokyo when the play was just me and Pete and some investors trying to make money, now I was back and we were just about ready to go.
"Well we don't really have much for you to do today, rehearsals aren't going to start until tomorrow," he said, "I just thought you'd like to come in and meet some of the other cast members and the crew."
"Sounds great!" I said bubbling with excitement. I'd never been a particularly important person at work before; it was fun to get led around like a star. He introduced me to members of the crew and cast. Some of them I knew, some of them I did not. They seemed nice enough. There were five cast members, including me. I met them all except for the girl who would be playing my lover. I started to think I wouldn't meet her.
"Ok, well let's meet you girlfriend. Her name is Dana Watling" Pete finally said after we talked to just about everyone else, "She is back in the green room." So we headed back together. We walked back to the theater, Pete showing me the way to the green room. We opened the door and walked in. I looked over at the couch and saw... my kid sister Dana sitting on the couch.
"What?" I asked incredulously. Dana started to shake her head nervously, then Pete was standing in between us and she was smiling serenely at me. My brow was furrowed. I couldn't even begin to understand what was happening. She was supposed to be at college, in Michigan. What was she doing here and why was she going by some made-up name?
"Eliza Kerrigan, this is Dana Watling," he said. The first thought that went through my mind was that Watling was the name of the street where my parents lived. Dana stood up from the couch and walked over to me. She extended her hand.
"Nice to meet you," she said casually. What the Hell was going on? Did she think I didn't recognize her? As she shook, she squeezed my hand tightly and looked into my eye. I think she was trying to tell me something. I was too confused to pick up messages. I had to get to the bottom of this.
"Well Dana, this is strange," I said. I was about to go on, to ask her about Mom and Dad and try to figure out what she was doing. But she quickly cut me off.
"Hey... Pete," she said, ignoring me, "Would you mind if I had a minute or two alone with Eliza, I want to discuss some things about the performance." It was only then that I remembered it was Pete I was dealing with. Was this some sort of joke, did he know this was my sister and was trying to get a rise out of me? For a moment, I was certain that was what was going on and I even smiled, it was kind of a funny joke. I looked over at Pete, and he didn't register a thing.
It was clear he didn't see a family resemblance or think anything was amiss. I guess I shouldn't have expected him to. I mean, Dana took after our mother; I sort of took after our father. She was taller than me, around 5'8 and she was very thin. She had small breasts, fair skin, long legs, and a classic girl-next door face down to the button nose and deep blue eyes. Even her hair was different than mine, very long and blonde. Still, I thought for sure our facial structures and our voices would give something away.
"Sure thing," he said and nodded like he understood we needed to talk about pretending to have sex with one another in front of a crowd. He walked to the door and then turned around, "Eliza I know you were worried about casting while you were away, but I think we nailed it. You guys look great together. And you give off... I don't know... the right energy." Pete said, clearly just legitimately pleased with his casting decision. Then he walked out and closed the door behind him. As soon as it closed, I spoke.
"Dana Watling?" I asked calmly at first, waiting until Pete was out of ear shot outside.
"There was already a Dana Kerrigan in the union, I had to pick a new name," she explained. I heard Pete's voice off in the distance and knew we had some privacy.
"Christ Dana, what the fuck are you doing here," I burst. Dana recoiled like she'd been hit. For a moment she paused, then she started to explain.
"Listen Eliza, I had no idea you were hooked onto this project when I read for it..." she started bur I put up my hand to stop her. I shoved her back down onto the couch and started to pace.
"I did not want to ask why you were in the green room. Why are you in New York, why are you not in Michigan?" I asked and he face got bright red and she shifted in her seat. I was the oldest of five kids, and my sister was the youngest. We were the only girls. Being ten years older than her meant we had a set, and predictable, relationship. I considered her a pest and she adored me. It didn't matter than she was 22 now or that I'd left home when she was 8 and only came back for the holidays; when I got mad at her, she felt it.
"I didn't want to go to college. That was Daddy's dream for me," she explained, not making eye contact with me. I stopped pacing. Well that certainly sounded familiar. I think I told my mother the same thing when I called her from New York 14 years earlier. "You'd think he'd have gotten the hint when I took a couple of years off after high school to work at a nail salon. But he just kept filling out applications until he got me into school somewhere."
"Did you go to school at all? How long have you been in New York?" I asked incredulously.
"I went all last year," she explained, "But I hated it. So this year I took the money that they gave me for housing and came here. I got here six months ago."
"Six months?!" I asked, "Why didn't you tell me you were here?"
"Would you have made me go home?" she asked, finally looking up into my eyes. I saw in that instant that neither one of us wanted me to answer honestly. For a long while we were quiet. Then I walked over and sat down on the couch next to my kid sister.
"Well, why did you come to the most expensive city in America to blow through Dad's tuition money?" I asked. There was no point in getting angry. That would be Dad's job later.
"I wanted... I wanted to be an actor, like you," she said uncertainly. I looked over at her and blushed to see that same hero worship I remember from back when I was in high school. She might be an adult, but I guessed I'd always be her big sister. Now she wasn't just trying to emulate my cool high school style, she was following in my career path. I was both flattered and nervous, a strange combination.
"Is this about...you know, being like me..." I said uncomfortably. I was always a little weirded out by my sister's shameless worship.
"No!" she said, sounding offended, "I was in the school play all three seasons, all four years of high school. You know that, you came and saw me. After high school I even did some dinner theater near home. I really think it was the fact that Dad sent me to a college with no drama program that really set me off to going here," she explained. I could hear the passion in her voice, she was leaning forward now, straining to make me believe. And I did, she clearly wanted it. But even with that...
"Okay, I guess I can understand that. Why are you doing a production involving simulated lesbian sex?" I asked suddenly. Hey, I am not hung up. If my sister was a lesbian that was cool. Plus, I was going to do this play, so I wasn't getting judgmental. It was just...this was my little baby sister. I'd babysat her a million times and dressed her up and played with her like a doll. I didn't want...strangers to see her naked. So I was a hypocrite, whatever.
"Eliza, this was the first reading that I even got a call back on. I have tried out for like 500 things in the last six months and this was my first nibble. I didn't even care what it was about, I was going to do it" she explained, "And I swear that I didn't know you were going to be in it. I only found out after I'd been cast and they told me the star, Eliza Kerrigan, would be back in a few days. Really, I thought something so out of the way would be off your radar," she explained in a way that made it sound like she was a little worried about my career.
"Well I am," I said, a little snippy. I found myself getting angry. Here was my little sister, once again barging into my life and messing things up. And now old enough for judgment too, "And you can't play opposite me in this. Do you realize what that would mean?"
"I read the script," she said defensively. I looked around the green room and saw a copy of the script. I found one and started flipping to different pages, showing my sister sections where I would have to kiss her, to touch her, to be naked and on top of her! This was not going to happen. "So you can't do this," I said finally. Now Dana got angry as well. She stood up quickly and rushed over to me.
"Why don't you quit? You've had jobs before, this is my first. This is what I want to do and... and I am running out of money. I need this," she explained. I was struck by her forcefulness. I knew she wasn't a little girl anymore, but she usually backed down when I pushed.
"I can't quit," I said. Only then did I reverse-engineer a good explanation as to why I couldn't, "Pete is not established and this is a real sort of iffy thing. He needs me on to be taken seriously. If I leave, the show collapses and you don't have a job. If I stay, you go and don't have a job. Why don't you quit so it doesn't screw everyone else?" I asked. For a minute Dana looked like she was going to yell something back. Then she thought for a few moments. I saw the ideas flickering in her eyes. Then she sat back down on the couch, defeated. She nestled her face in her hands and started to cry.
"I know, you're right," she moaned. I felt bad for being so harsh, but I had to make my point. Now I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. Winning this argument suddenly felt worse than losing.
"I am sorry," I said, and I was. For a moment she just cried and I held her and protected her the way I had when we were kids. And I felt even worse about forcing her to quit this job. She just wanted to be like me, like she always did.
"It is just," she said after a long pause, "I don't have any more money. I can't pay my rent. And I think this means I have to go home. I have to tell Mom and Dad and beg them to forgive me."
"Oh honey..." I said. I felt her pain intimately. I knew what she was going to experience.
"I thought I could do it because you did it, but I think that this was a stupid dream. I've never been as good at anything as you are. I need to let it go," she said, sounding absolutely defeated. And my heart sank. I'd had that feeling before. Not for a long while, but I'd had it. I knew exactly what she was feeling. And I felt terrible that it was my fault that she felt it. That was not my job; parents are the ones who tear you down. A sister, especially one who knew what you were going through, were supposed to hold you up. I needed to fix this for Dana. But how?
I could afford not to do this part, but I wasn't lying. The production was too close, it would fall apart if I left. There was only one way for this to work out. And I didn't know if either of us was up for it. I couldn't believe what I was considering. But I didn't see a way out. How was else was I going to advance my career and, more importantly, protect my little sister? For a long time we sat there on the couch, my little sister cradled in my arms feeling terrible and me trying to figure out what to do. Then the idea of her getting up from the couch, walking out of the theater, and going home came to mind. I saw each soul crushing step in that dance. I didn't think that I could let it happen. Finally she stood and started to walk to the door.
"Okay Eliza, I am going to tell Pete that I quit," she said, sounding brave. And something inside of me, call it sisterly love, sprung into action.
"Dana, I'm sorry," I said, pulling her around so she was looking at me. Her eyes were red and puffy but she somehow looked more beautiful. So innocent and in need of protection, "I don't want to take this away from you."
"I know," she said dejectedly.
"No," I said, feeling my heart pounding in my chest, "I am saying I can't take this away from you. You need to take the role."
"But you said the production will fall apart if you leave," Dana said, furrowing her brow.
"So..." Dana said, "What are you saying?"
"I am saying, I am professional actor. That is what I do. I could act with anyone playing my love interest. Are you a professional?" I asked. For a moment it didn't seem like it registered with Dana and she smiled brightly and threw her arms around me.
"Oh thank you Eliza, thank you so much!" she said. And I was confused. I didn't think this was a time for out-and-out celebrating. We were agreeing to do something very strange and uncomfortable. Something to really ponder.
"You realize what this means?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said bouncing up and down on the couch, "I have a job!" she said and I realized that she was still my little sister. Completely unaware of the consequences of her actions. I guess worrying about that is a big sister's concern.
Chapter 2: Rehearsal
"Alright," Pete said, "I guess it's time to stop fucking around. Let's do Act I, Scene 2 now." He was referring to the first scene in which Dana and I would kiss. This was about a week into rehearsals. It was late in the afternoon; we'd already been working all day. I, for one, was already tired. The first few days had been slow and tedious while Pete got his directing feet under him. We were rehearsing for six weeks before the start of the show and would be working about 10 hours a day, six days a week in that time. But, at first, we hadn't got much done. Just Pete figuring out how to get the pictures in his head onto the stage.
Not that he was doing poorly. He was just new at it. I think that would be my assessment for everyone in the production. The cast and crew were talented, but a little green. In a few weeks, we'd be experiencing smooth sailing. There was plenty of potential in this production. And the person who impressed me the most was Dana. I'd seen her in cheesy high school productions during trips home and she was fine. But now she was really warming to her craft. She was professional and took direction well. Most importantly, she felt natural on the stage. She didn't look like she was acting, she just was her character. I was surprised and delighted by her talent. Plus, she wasn't just "acting" for her job, we were both playing the parts of strangers as well. While we were at work, we acted like we were barely acquainted, thereby doubling the amount of our performances each day. We'd talked it all out in the green room after we agreed to stay on the production. We'd be strangers. Thankfully, her professionalism made that easy.