While actors generally are quite extroverted on stage, meeting to talk about plays and productions was always quite awkward for Ryan Case, until one day in Woodland Park.
He and Adam Luckey were getting together to talk about Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening With the Illuminati), a play Luckey knew and wanted to perform with Case.
"I don't remember anything being weird about it," Case says, recalling that 2005 meeting.
Luckey chimes in, "I know the exact tree we were sitting under and the root system."
"We were reading it," Case says of the play, "and nothing seemed strange. It was immediately just like we do now, where we'll say, 'Oh, there's this Woman in Black play. Let's look at this."
The Woman in Black, which opens Sunday at Balagula Theatre, is the latest manifestation of Case and Luckey's artistic partnership that has been going on for nearly a decade.
"As a director, when working with them, I am never limited creatively and always inspired to go to greater depth in building the inner story of the play that is consistent at every turn, complex and rich with meaning," says Natasha Williams, who is co-artistic director of Balagula Theatre with Case and has directed Luckey and Case numerous times. "Working with them is a great creative process, privilege and fun."
Before becoming two of Lexington theater's most consistent collaborators, Case and Luckey had established stage reputations in their own rights: Luckey starring in Shakespearean roles such as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Iago in Othello at the Lexington Shakespeare Festival and Case in the title roles of The Cripple of Inishmaan and Bat Boy — The Musical at Actors Guild.
Cripple, presented in 2000, was where Case and Luckey met. But it was because of a different AGL show, where Luckey was in the audience, that he really began to appreciate Case's craft.
"The first time I noticed Ryan and thought there was something special there, real and present, was The Picture of Dorian Gray," Luckey says. "He was the actor that for me stood out, and I continued to watch. As an actor, you watch people and what they do in their down time. What their reactions are and how they react, and he was present the entire time."
While they were cast in some of the same shows, they didn't really act together until Attilio Favorini and Lynne Conner's In the Garden of Live Flowers, the 2003 world premiere production of a somewhat avant garde play about pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring.
"The two times I was onstage with Ryan were two of the best," Luckey says. "There was one scene where we were a bomber pilot and a co-pilot, and what were we DDT'ing?"
Case replies, "Yeah, we were DDT'ing the land, and then we bailed out, and we had these big goggles we were wearing. That was so cool because it was the first time someone looked at me and said, 'It is so great to work with you.'
"We almost immediately started working together as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other and having fun with it, enjoying it. We were testing each other to see how far we could go ... . By the end of that run, we were chums."
The next year, when Luckey started an effort to present plays at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, where he was working, he called Case about being in the first show: Michael Blieden's restaurant-based comedy, Phyro-Giants!
Natasha's Balagula Theatre is where Case and Luckey's relationship really began to flourish, resulting in productions from the nutty Illuminati to the very heavy Copenhagen, and they also have directed each other in shows, including several of last year's offerings in Balagula's absurdist season.
"With The Balagula being an actors-oriented theater and the two of us being the foundation, along with Natasha, we can choose the projects we want to explore together," Case says. "We can say, 'OK, let's switch the relationship and you be the director and I'll be the actor, or I'll be the director and you be the actor.' We can do shows from a different realm, like The Woman in Black."
A lot of the process of play selection for the duo involves reading plays to find new projects, as opposed to having big goals of things to do together. That's how Woman in Black worked, with Case giving Luckey the script, then getting a midnight phone call when Luckey got to the end and the last two pages were missing.
"I had to know how it ended," Luckey said of the theatrical British mystery, "and I had to do this play with Ryan."
In recent years, Luckey has pulled Case into productions by the Kentucky Historical Society Museum Theatre, where he is a theater specialist. So it is not so much that Case and Luckey have shows they want to do together as much as they just want to continue to work together.
"There are actors that knock our socks off in town, but there is no one else ... with whom I can just play seamlessly," Luckey says. "There's no one else I have been able to trust to say, here's the ball, go with it, and then they throw it back, and there you have it."