Rinabeth Apostol's take two: the luck and logistics of back-to-back roles

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday April 26, 2022
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Rinabeth Apostol
Rinabeth Apostol

On May 8, Rinabeth Apostol will take her last bow as Alison Bechdel in the 42nd Street Moon production of the Tony-winning musical "Fun Home." Just three nights later, she'll be on stage at the Magic Theatre, playing a titular sibling in the world premiere of Sam Chanse's Asian American road trip dramedy "Monument, or Four Sisters (A Sloth Play)."

If you catch Apostol in both productions, you'll no doubt see what this critic called "a remarkable display of versatility" when the queer Filipina actor last pulled off two overlapping engagements in late 2019, rehearsing for her lead in the musical comedy "Groundhog Day" at SF Playhouse by day while playing the title character in "The Chinese Lady" at the Magic by night.

Rinabeth Apostopol and Jaron-Vesely in 42nd Street Moon's
production of 'Fun Home.'  

As one of Bay Area theater's most accomplished and in-demand actors, Apostol, who grew up in Berkeley, the daughter of political activist parents, has been fortunate enough to occasionally maintain lengthy periods of on stage employment. In New York, that might mean a single role in a long-running production, but in the scrappier scene here �—where theater tourism is minimal so audiences consist almost entirely of locals— it means back-to-back parts and sometimes complex logistics, scrambling between rehearsal rooms and spotlights.

"When you're working in entertainment, you don't always know when your next job is coming," Apostol said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter last week. "Sometimes it's crazy, practicing lines in the car and trying to stay in the right lane when you're headed from one thing to the next. It can take a toll. Two shows is a lot of lines to keep memorized at once. And my wife will tell you that I can't remember what I ate yesterday. But I'm grateful that I have these opportunities."

At least two other pairs of back-to-back gigs sprung immediately to mind for Apostol.

"I realized the stamina it can take back it 2011 when I was rehearsing "Avenue Q" at San Jose Stage and driving to the Playground Festival in Potrero in the evenings. And I was living in Alameda at the time!"

"And in early 2019, Jomar Tagatac [A similarly versatile and in-demand local performer] and I were both doing 'King of the Yees' at SF Playhouse while we were rehearsing for a production of 'Vietgone' in Sacramento. "We took Amtrak back and forth every day," she recalls. "In order to be in San Francisco on time for the performance each night, our rehearsals for Capital Playhouse were at eight in the morning to accommodate us. Can you imagine? Nobody does that."

Rinabeth Apostol in A.C.T.'s 'Monstress.'  (Source: Kevin Berne)

In fact, they sometimes do; especially when it means an opportunity to cast the likes of Apostol and Tagatac, whose consistent presence on local stages provides frequent theatergoers with a sense of familiarity and dependability.

Spotting either of their headshots in your playbill feels like a Good Stagekeeping Seal of Approval, virtually guaranteeing smart and satisfying work in the evening ahead.

Apostol is quick to acknowledge her wife of seven years, Marie Bernardo, for steadfast support of her acting career, even as it means they frequently work different schedules that can minimize time together.

"The pandemic," notes Apostol, "gave us a rare opportunity to spend time with each other."

While Bernardo, who works in marketing for a bank, has a largely consistent group of coworkers from day to day, Apostol observes that "I have a new group of colleagues every month or so, and she is so welcoming and warm to all of them.

"Marie and I knew each other when we were much younger, but when we met as adults, she had no idea what I did for a living. But it turned out she's a huge musical theater fan. She likes to call herself my manager. I'm actually not very good at publicizing my work, but Marie has a huge email list and gets our friends and family and coworkers out to my shows."

While Apostol says she is now in the fortunate position of "not having to run myself ragged" taking back-to-back roles in order to stay afloat economically, she says she is willing to do it when it means "doing work that is relevant to what's going on today and getting to work with new playwrights with fresh takes on the world instead of another iteration of Miss Saigon. As a woman and an Asian American, I live in a body that is politicized, whether or not I want it to be, and that has an influence on the roles I want to play and that I will take when I get the chance to play them."

Roles that reflect real life
While she's been performing locally since childhood, Apostol notes that it wasn't until 2015 that she first played a Filipina role, in "Monstress" at A.C.T. (A second followed quickly on its heels, when she played in Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" at the Magic). And her current stint in "Fun Home" is the first time she's ever played a lesbian on stage.

"I've actually never seen a production of 'Fun Home' before," Apostol says. "But I remember seeing an excerpt on the Tony Awards the year it was nominated and watching the girl who played Alison singing 'Ring of Keys,' which is about a child being first able to recognize herself and her value and possibilities in the world. My whole face was just leaking watching that. I was so moved."

In "Monument," there is no specific mention of the fact that the four sisters are Asian American, but Apostopol says she could feel some very familiar family dynamics baked into the characters by playwright Chanse.

"I loved the fact that the play features Asian American characters," says Apostol, "but that the story isn't particularly focused on their Asian American-ness."

And so, another double header: Two more irresistible roles for Rinabeth Apostol, two more promising nights at the theater for Bay Area audiences.

'Fun Home,' through May 8 at the Gateway Theatre. 215 Jackson St. $20-$70. 415-255-8207. www.42ndstmoon.org

'Monument, or Four Sisters,' May 11-29 at the Magic Theatre. Fort Mason. $20-$70. 415-441-8822. www.magictheatre.org


'Allegiance' at Palo Alto Players  

Allegiance at Palo Alto Players
George Takei, the first major Asian American actor to publicly come out as being gay, was intimately involved in the original production of "Allegiance," a musical about his own Japanese American family's experiences in an internment camp during WWII.

The story of a Salinas farm family forcibly relocated to Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming is both touching and tuneful, and the rare musical with all Asian leads by and music and lyrics by an Asian-American composer, Jay Kuo.

'Allegiance,' through May 8 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto. $27-$57. 650-329-0891. www.paplayers.org

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