Actresses Robyn O'Neill and Angela Shipley are destined to be either close friends or worst enemies by the end of October.

By then, they'll have spent more than a hundred hours literally joined at the hip as co-stars of the Tony-nominated musical, “Side Show,” opening at Swift Creek Mill Theatre Sept. 4. The show is based on the true story of conjoined (“Siamese”) twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were popular vaudeville performers in the 1930s.

“So far, we're getting along swimmingly,” Shipley reports of rehearsals. “But you'd be amazed at the muscles you find when you have to stay connected at the hip to someone.”

While “Side Show” highlights an unusual onstage pair, an equally intriguing partnership will work together off-stage this fall. The Barksdale Theatre and Firehouse Theatre Project have joined forces to create a festival of plays by Sarah Ruhl, with Firehouse offering “Eurydice” (opening Sept. 18) and Barksdale producing “A Clean House” (Sept. 26). A discounted combination ticket will be available to cover admission to both shows.

The competing companies came together because of a dovetailing of two goals: the Firehouse's commitment to present contemporary off-Broadway shows and Barksdale's focus on the work of women in theater. “It was really the result of a casual conversation,” Barksdale spokeswoman Judi Crenshaw says. The artistic directors of both companies “said ‘Hey, maybe we can help each other out.’”

Auxiliary activities for the festival include post-show talks, a film and a staged reading of another Ruhl play, “Dead Man's Cell Phone.”

The cozy Barksdale-Firehouse partnership contrasts with the rocky onstage relationships that will be portrayed in plays such as “Driving Miss Daisy,” opening at Barksdale's Hanover Tavern stage Sept. 19, and “The Nerd,” the first offering in Chamberlayne Actors Theatre's season (Oct. 22).

“Daisy” was adapted into a movie starring Morgan Freeman as the African-American chauffeur who overcomes the bristly attitude of a Southern matron, a role that won Jessica Tandy an Oscar.
“The Nerd” features Rick and Willum, two Vietnam vets who had never met, though Rick saved Willum's life. When Rick — a socially awkward misfit — decides to insert himself into Willum's life, comic mayhem ensues.

Two won't be the only significant number in fall theater, however, with Richmond Triangle Players' “Four Queens in Hawaiian Shirts” (Sept. 17) being a notable exception. Still, with partnerships dominating theaters, both onstage and off, I'll be hoping for dynamic duos in the coming months instead of terrible twos.

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