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Annemarie Hagenaars and Judy Rosenblatt star in Donald Margulies’s Collected Stories at the Rochester Fringe Festival this month

Who: Judy Rosenblatt, Annemarie Hagenaars, Austin Pendleton
What: Livestreamed play as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival
Where: Rochester Fringe Festival online
When: September 15, 5:30, September 19, 5:30, September 21, 6:30, September 24, 7:30 (festival runs September 15-26), $5
Why: You didn’t really think a little ol’ thing like a pandemic lockdown would stop Austin Pendleton, did you? The ubiquitous eighty-year-old writer-actor-director-teacher extraordinaire has kept working throughout the Covid-19 crisis, starring in the Guild Hall benefit livestream of Joe Beck’s one-man show James Joyce: A Short Night’s Odyssey from No to Yes on Bloomsday; appearing in a short new one-man play by Craig Lucas, directed by Pam McKinnon, for the Homebound Project benefit series for No Kid Hungry; and directing and performing in a radio adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock for Steppenwolf.

Next up for Pendleton is directing Donald Margulies’s Pulitzer Prize finalist Collected Stories at the Rochester Fringe Festival. The two-character play debuted in 1996 at South Coast Rep and opened on Broadway in 2010. For the fringe, which is taking place virtually September 15-26 and consists of more than 170 presentations, Judy Rosenblatt will portray teacher and short story writer Ruth Steiner, and Annemarie Hagenaars will be her ambitious twenty-six-year-old student and protégée Lisa Morrison. “I am so grateful and lucky that I get to work with Austin and Judy,” Hagenaars told me via email. “I met them both online back in March at HB Studio. I haven’t met them both in real life yet. Isn’t that strange? Our whole relationship that we have built up over the past months happened solely on Zoom.”

Among the prestigious pairs who have previously played Steiner and Morrison are Kandis Chappell and Suzanne Cryer, Maria Tucci and Debra Messing, Uta Hagen and Lorca Simons, Linda Lavin and Samantha Mathis, Helen Mirren and Anne-Marie Duff, and Lavin and Sarah Paulson.

“I’m so excited to be working with Judy on this play,” Hagenaars, a Dutch actress who also has an MSc in physics and a BSc in astronomy, said about Rosenblatt (Woman Before a Glass, There or Here), who has studied and acted with Pendleton. All three live in New York City but have not been able to get together in person. “We have been meeting on Zoom and rehearsing for the past five months and we have gotten to know each other really well. Not only each other, but also our characters. Donald Margulies wrote a marvelous play and it’s a real treat to be working on these characters. Judy and I work very well together. We both have a Meisner background and we like exploring every single beat in the script. We are a great match.”

I let Hagenaars (Girl Gone: Or Before A League of Their Own, CasablancaBox) know that last summer I rode the Third Ave. bus a short way with Pendleton and we had a lovely chat about theater. I did not tell him that the bus kiosk where we met featured an ad for his play at the time, Aaron Posner’s brilliant Uncle Vanya reimagining Life Sucks, and that the rave at the top of the ad was mine.

“Austin is a fantastic director,“ Hagenaars explained. “He is very kind and he knows exactly how to work with actors and give them notes and feedback on their work. I guess because he also has a lot of experience as an actor he knows how he likes to be directed and reflects that in his work. He is always very supportive of our work but gives the necessary adjustments to us to guide us in a different direction. And his directions are truly enlightening for me. I can’t wait to meet him in real life and give him a big hug.”

The play will be streamed live September 15 and 19 at 5:30, September 21 at 6:30, and September 24 at 7:30; tickets are a mere five bucks.

“I’m having a blast and I feel so fortunate with Judy and Austin,” Hagenaars concluded. “This whole process has been totally worth it and we haven’t even gotten to the first performance yet, but I’m gonna enjoy every single minute.”

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