As two mainstays of Washington Shakespeare Company (WSC), Jay Hardee and Christopher Henley have collaborated on numerous productions, either directing one another or acting together.
Last season closed with Hardee’s staging of Tennessee Williams’ “Small Craft Warnings” in which Henley played Quentin, the washed-up gay screenwriter; and currently Hardee is again directing Henley as “He,” the embodiment of state-inflicted evil in the world English language premiere of Chilean playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra’s “Every Young Woman’s Desire,” an intense allegory of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.
“Jay and I have a very easy working relationship,” attests Henley, WSC’s artistic director. “The creative part is never strained. It’s the administrative side that can get stressful, mainly because there are so few of us doing so much. (Hardee does double duty as the company’s unpaid publicist; and in July, Henley plans to leave his longtime position at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to become WSC’s sole full-time employee.)
Incidentally, Hardee and Henley are also engaged.
The pair’s relationship sprouted as a backstage romance. They met during production of Scena Theatre’s “Ivona, Princess of Burgundia” in 2004. Hardee was understudying for Henley.
“We spent time together going over blocking, and pretty soon I developed a crush,” remembers Hardee with a sly smile. “When the show’s D.C. run ended, I asked Christopher [Henley] to dinner. He agreed to come, but didn’t realize it was actually a date until about halfway through. Although Christopher looks very young for his age, he didn’t assume that someone 20 years his junior wanted to date him. I’m happy to report he was pleasantly surprised. We’ve been together ever since.”
While the soon-to-be newlyweds have cemented travel plans for a mid-November honeymoon (two weeks in Tobago and Surinam), Hardee and Henley have yet to set a date to marry. They’ve agreed, however, that it will be before the November elections.
“We’ve been assured by friends that D.C. marriage equality can’t be overturned like in California,” reports Hardee. “But we’re not willing to risk any sort of political backlash, so we’re aiming for a civil ceremony sometime between now and November.”
Before same-sex marriage was legalizex in D.C., Hardee and Henley had already considered tying the knot. To them, it is simply the next logical step in the progression of their relationship. “We want to be as important to each other as we can be,” shares Henley. “And it’s nice to have our love for one another acknowledged in a public way.”
Back to the couple’s current joint endeavor: “Every Young Woman’s Desire.” Hardee learned of de la Parra as a student at Tufts when he was cast as a woman (the first of many cross gender performances to come) in one of his other plays. More recently, Hardee’s desire to bring some diversity to WSC’s mission of boldly and provocatively tackling the classics reacquainted him with the playwright.
“It’s a very magical realist piece with wild tone shifts,” explains Hardee. “Christopher plays a mysterious man who sneaks into a young woman’s [Kari Ginsburg] apartment, and ruthlessly takes control of her body and mind. It’s an allegorical take on the brutality of unchecked power in Santiago under Pinochet. The author is equally critical of the society that tolerated the dictatorship as well.”
There is a risk involved, notes Henley, when a company presents a play unfamiliar to its audience. “You then become heavily dependent on critical response. If you mount something by Shakespeare or Chekhov, people are more likely to come and see for themselves. Still, it’s something we both definitely want to do more of.”
Ultimately, Henley credits instincts for the couple’s success. And it’s because of these shared similar responses – both creative and not – that they feel compelled to keep the collaboration going.
‘Every Young Woman’s Desire’
Through June 20
Washington Shakespeare Theatre
601 S. Clark St.