CTC actors make ‘Philadelphia’ characters more than caricatures

Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Dina Lord springs onto the stage in a sailor costume and pointe ballet shoes, and the audience watching The Philadelphia Story erupts in laughter. Though Dina seems 15 years old or younger on stage, the actor behind the girl, Molly Bernard, is entering her third year of graduate school at Yale University.

“It’s a fear of mine that I will be cast perpetually as younger children,” Bernard said. “But playing Dina is amazing, because she is the wit and wonder of The Philadelphia Story. That is a real treat.”

Bernard and six other conservatory actors take the stage in Chautauqua Theater Company’s The Philadelphia Story, which plays at 4 p.m. today in Bratton Theater and runs through July 8.

While Bernard plays Tracy Lord’s younger sister, Dina Lord, Max Woertendyke, another conservatory actor, who attends The Juilliard School, portrays Lord’s fiancé, George Kittredge.

“George is designed as a character who is climbing the social ladder. But I think it’s less fun for me, and it does both the character and the play less justice if I play him as just that,” Woertendyke said. “It’s about finding what else there is.”

Woertendyke and Bernard have worked to flesh out their characters, to make them more than simple caricatures. It has taken weeks of rehearsal and the beginning of the performance process to create the fully realized human beings now on stage.

Bernard

Molly Bernard —Dina Lord

From age 6 to 18, Bernard took acting classes from her grandfather, an acting teacher, for two to three hours twice per week.

“It’s my thing,” she said. “It’s the deepest part of me.”

The stage is liberation for Bernard. It’s a chance to step outside of the self, she said.

And from there, she finds fulfillment through gift-giving with the audience, a phrase she found in the words of the famous director Anne Bogart.

“The gift-giving is the communal sharing act,” Bernard said. “Chautauqua audiences are so responsive that you can feel it so intensely.”

She reached Chautauqua this year after having auditioned this year and last for CTC.

Now she is here and she portrays privileged teenager Dina Lord.

In the play, Bernard performs alongside Peter Francis James, her Yale Shakespeare professor, who is a CTC guest artist actor and portrays her father, Seth Lord. Though at first she was nervous about performing with the man she affectionately calls “PFJ,” that fear has lifted.

“PFJ has been a bit demystified,” Bernard said. “It’s so amazing to get to work with such a brilliant actor.”

Woertendyke

Max Woertendyke — George Kittredge

For Woertendyke, theater builds his “empathy muscles,” and fosters an intimacy between cast and crew that few other professions allow. But most of all, he enjoys it.

“Actors talk about how much we enjoy our work … but it serves a purpose as well and has value and should be regarded as such,” Woertendyke said.

In The Philadelphia Story, Woertendyke portrays self-made Kittredge, who finds Tracy Lord, the woman he has been waiting for.

“He feels like a constant interloper. In the world of the play … he isn’t and will never be one of them. He doesn’t have the bloodline for it,” Woertendyke said.

To prepare for his role of a man who is big in the coal mining industry, Woertendyke said he learned more about coal than he never needed to know. But that ability to research and discover more about a person and a period excites him, he said.

A Brooklyn boy, Woertendyke found Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute when his younger sister took classes there, and he worked on the administrative side in exchange for a Saturday acting class.

Instead of continuing his theater education at a conservatory for his undergraduate, he studied history and English literature at McGill University in Montreal, before working in New York City. He then attended Juilliard for theater.

Jessica Savage, a fellow conservatory actor at CTC from Juilliard, urged him to audition for CTC. Now, Woertendyke takes the stage as Kittredge.

“The tough thing is understanding how he fits into the play and also figuring out who he is as a human being and what it is that’s propelling him forward,” Woertendyke said.

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