‘Chapatti’ opens eight-performance run Thursday, May 5, at Grizzly Peak Winery
By Julia Sommer for Ashland.news
The husband-and-wife team of Michael Elich and Robin Goodrin Nordli star in Rogue Theater Company’s production of “Chapatti,” which opens a two-week run at Grizzly Peak Winery on Thursday, May 5.
The two are longtime Oregon Shakespeare Festival favorites, as is the play’s director, Robynn Rodriguez, who returned to Ashland from New Hampshire for this production.
The three have known and worked with each other for about 40 years and are taking great joy in working together again. RTC Artistic Director Jessica Sage calls the trio “a trifecta.”
Last year, Sage asked Elich and Nordli if they wanted to act together for RTC. The three of them went back and forth with play ideas, until Elich and Nordli came across “Chapatti” on a bookshelf in former OSF actor and playwright Linda Alper’s Portland home.
The two-person play by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly, which premiered in Chicago in 2014, is about Dan and Betty, two lonely animal lovers. Chapatti is the name of Dan’s dog, named after his favorite Indian flatbread. Betty, Dan’s neighbor, has 19 cats.
They have lost loved ones and live alone. Much of the time they address the audience in monologues. Sage describes “Chapatti” as “a warm and gentle story about two people rediscovering the importance of human companionship.”
“It appealed to us because it’s about two isolated, lonely people,” says Nordli. “It fit with this time of pandemic isolation, especially among older people, and with the huge increase in pet ownership.”
“The play is deceptively difficult,” says Rodriguez, the director, “but Robin and Michael are so accomplished, such game people, such talented actors. We’ve acted together for a long time, we have a shorthand, an intimacy already built in, a common language, common training. … These are people I love and respect; we’re having a good time.”
Rodriguez and Nordli both trained at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, while Elich studied at Juilliard in New York City.
“Robynn thinks like an actor,” said Elich. “We wouldn’t be doing this without the right director. She’s a perfectionist with a keen eye.”
“She pushes us while remaining collaborative,” Nordli said. “She does her homework.”
While “Chapatti” will be performed outdoors, weather permitting, the first week of rehearsals had to be indoors at the winery due to cold, wet weather.
“This is a less-is-more type of play,” says Rodriguez. “There are no lights, as we’re outdoors, and no big hunks of scenery. The play lends itself to that.”
Richard Hay is the scenic designer and Claudia Everett is the play costume consultant.
Elich left OSF in 2017 after performing 59 roles in 47 productions over 21 seasons. He’s gone to shows with The Public Theater in New York City, Hartford Stage, Clarence Brown Theatre in Tennessee, Milwaukee Rep, Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, and three seasons at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Nordli performed in 77 roles in 75 productions over 26 seasons at OSF and was about to start her 27th season playing Sarah Bernhardt in “Bernhardt/Hamlet” when COVID-19 hit. She starred in RTC’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” last year and continues to perform her one-woman show, “Virgins to Villains.”
“The best thing for us is to work together,” says Elich of performing with Nordli.
They met in ’94 in a production of Lanford Wilson’s “Fifth of July” in Portland. “Chapatti” is their 23rd production together.
With long Actors Equity careers under their belts — including “Chapatti” — and now Equity pensions, Elich and Nordli are happy to make Ashland their home.
Neither of them have upcoming gigs planned after “Chapatti,” but say they will take on roles that are particularly appealing. They also plan to visit with family and travel.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Elich, “but we’ve also worked our butts off.”
“This is a homecoming,” says Rodriguez, the director. She and her husband, Dartmouth faculty scenic designer Michael Ganio, plan on returning to their Ashland home of many years. “Our chosen family is here,” she says.
Rodriguez left OSF in 2012 after 22 seasons with the company, and went on to act and direct all over the country. Her most recent production was last spring, playing the title role in a film version of “King Lear” produced by West Virginia University and West Virginia public TV.
“RTC is filling a niche,” Nordli said of the theater company. “We’re full of admiration for Jessica for pulling this off; she’s got incredible energy.”
“We’re grateful to Jessica (Sage) and the folks at RTC for figuring out a way to keep doing theater,” says Rodriguez. “She’s inspiring, and Grizzly Peak Winery a lovely venue.”
Sage, the company artistic director, says of the upcoming show: “I wish I could film our rehearsals and send the videos to every acting school in the country. Each session is a master class. Watching Robin and Michael explore the dynamic between Betty and Dan, with Robynn’s specificity guiding, is truly breathtaking.”
Email freelance writer Julia Sommer of Ashland at email@example.com.