Actor Rhett Henckel, 30, has returned to Dallas to play twin brothers in Second Thought Theatre’s production of Christopher Shinn’s Dying City, directed by Lee Trull. Henckel went to Baylor University with STT’s co-artistic director Steven Walters, and knew all of Second Thought’s founders.
After working in New York (where he still has an apartment) for several years, he’s starting to think about pursuing more work regionally. Later this summer, he and his company there, called the Outfit, will take their original show Jester’s Dead to New York University’s Studio Tisch. Read more about that below.
TheaterJones caught up with Henckel as he was preparing to play twin brothers Peter and Craig in Dying City, which runs for one more weekend, closing July 2.
TheaterJones: So you were at Baylor University at the same time as Steven Walters. I understand you both played a lot of "older" roles.
Rhett Henckel: Yeah, I graduated with Steven in 2003. We were both tall and we could grow significant facial hair. I guess that’s kind of what it takes. In The Comedy of Errors, he played my father, I was one of the twins [Dromios]. I played his father. We played each other’s fathers a lot. …We never got to work together in the way that we were portraying characters our own age.
What was your first exposure to Dallas theater?
The year I was graduating I auditioned for the Shakespeare Festival here and got cast as Hamlet in 2003. I was also in Earth and Sky in Second Thought's first season in 2005.
What is different now that you’re working in Dallas again, eight years later?
Seeing how the theater scene has evolved. It’s really flourishing, with the Dallas Theater Center and the arts center. That’s something I didn’t see in 2003. I felt like Dallas had a glass ceiling in terms of the arts. I look at it now and there are so many great companies and people working here. I think it’s a really exciting time to come back to Dallas.
How did you come up with the idea for Jester’s Dead?
New York’s such a saturated market, obviously, there’s so much going on. A buddy and I had this idea for a mash-up the movie Top Gun and Shakespeare. It took a while for this idea to take shape, but once it did, it took on a whole life of its own. We wrote it, and decided that we wanted to keep working with this people, so started this company called The Outfit. We workshopped it around New York, did it at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
It’s sort of a send-up, a love card to Top Gun the movie. We all grew up with it, and we peppered it with Shakespeare. There’s a bit of text from every Shakespeare play in it.
Every play? Even Timon of Athens?
The best line from Timon of Athens is in there. Although don’t ask me to remember it now. That was one of our rules. But we keep specific language from the movie too. It’s fluid, it never stops. It’s like a band of players tells the tale of Top Gun, but they’re like a Shakespearean, resourceful group. People who were Shakespeare fans but didn’t know Top Gun loved it and thought it was funny and interesting; and the Top Gun fans who didn’t know Shakespeare loved it. We wanted to put these disparate elements together. When we first started looking at Top Gun we were struck by how Shakespearean it was.
Is the volleyball scene there?
Yes. The two choruses are talking about what’s happening, it’s from Macbeth, reporting from the field. It’s a slow-motion, shirtless, sweaty volleyball scene. Somewhere buried in there beyond all the fun, there’s a comment about what theater is and how it can be exciting.
What did you like about Dying City when you read it?
It was challenging. This is the first play I’ve done in five years where I feel like the amount required of me is really challenging enough to take all of me, I don’t have the luxury of being half-involved. That's good.
How did you get into playing twin brothers?
I’ve spent more time on how they are the same than how they are different. I think of the play as a magic golf club that has been crafted so well that I don’t have to swing that hard to make it go where I want it. I just have to let the club do the work and be a little gentle with it. I think [the brothers are] not too different, they’re very close and express themselves in different ways. I thought Peter would be easier for me to get to and Craig might take some work, but it has been the opposite.
Do you have a brother?
Yes. I’m the oldest of three. I was in the car with him last time I was here and was talking to him about this play. Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my brother. I feel like my relationship to him is like Craig’s relationship to Peter, so that’s why Craig has been more immediate for me to access. I think about him a lot when I think of Peter, although he and Peter are nothing alike. But that has really served me.
Can we expect to see you working in Dallas again?
I’ll have Dallas as long as Dallas will have me.