Keeping Amused, with Leah Zeldes

Split personalities

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Hollis Resnik will be the calm and spiritual Lady Tonase. But by 8 p.m. she'll have morphed into the ball-busting bluestocking Philaminte, with a complete physical makeover.

It's just another day of repertory for the Ravenswood actress, a resident artist at Hyde Park's Court Theatre, one of the city's few theater companies that regularly performs plays in rotating repertory.

"It's something I tremendously enjoy," Resnik says. "An actor doesn't get to do that very often."

The two plays are "Fair Ladies Play at a Game of Poem Cards," the U.S. premiere of Peter Oswald's 1996 adaptation of an 18th-century Japanese work by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, and "The Learned Ladies," 17th-century French playwright Moliere's comic look at female scholars and henpecked husbands.

"I'm really enjoying them, because they are so markedly different," says Resnik. "Lady Tonase is very spiritual, she kind of bookends the play." Philaminte, however, is bossy and pretentious.

How does she keep them straight? "You have to get yourself into a mind set. I have to go back to my script all the time. That's the most important key -- going back to the words on the page."

It helps that the Lady Tonase role is smaller than her part as Philaminte, a typical division of parts in repertory. The dissimilarities in the shows helps, too. "You know you have two separate stories. Usually, they're different historically." For example, the "Fair Ladies" role required study of Eastern thought and form and movement.

The pre-show process is harder than the actual performances, Resnik says, even just dealing with the research. "That's also a struggle, just to read so much material. You can't really do all that at once.

And rehearsals can be confusing. "The rehearsal process is actually much more difficult than the show. You're shifting back and forth, and you rehearse scenes out of sequence."

But once the costumes are in place and stage lights come up, "It's very easy to keep it fresh, because you're not doing the same thing eight times a week. It makes for a very lively experience for an actor."

Repertory is mainly the province of summer-stock companies and festivals such as Stratford. "The big festivals do it. It's not common," Resnik says. "I think (Court's productions have) been a wonderfully significant thing for the Chicago theater scene. It's wonderful for the actors."

What do audiences get out of it? "I think that if they know you, they're always intrigued to see you be a chameleon, to see you shift so abruptly from one world to the next," Resnik says.

A longtime Chicago actress, Resnik is the winner of eight Joseph Jefferson Awards and three After Dark Awards, as well as the Sarah Siddons Leading Lady Award. Besides her local work, for theaters such as the Goodman, Apollo and Northlight, she toured with "Les Miserables" for two years and has appeared on the New York stage and in several TV shows and films, including "Backdraft" and "The Untouchables."

But Chicago is home. "I'm not fond of living in New York City. I can't live in a closet and deal with the noise," says Hollis, who is married to musician Tom Mendel, a regular in the Goodman Theatre's orchestra pit. "I like L.A., but L.A. is not a huge theater town. L.A. is looking for 20-year-olds.

"Here you can have a nice yard, and everybody knows who you are."

But, still, she enjoys the chance to be someone else for a while, or two somebody elses. "It's fun to be entirely different."

Court Theatre's rotating repertory productions of "The Learned Ladies" and "Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards" continue through May 28 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago. Tickets range from $26 to $36 for each play. For details, call (773) 753-4472.

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