For Richmond actors Kelsey Cordrey and John Mincks, playing high school classmates in TheatreLab's "Moth" isn't too large a stretch.
During the 2009-'10 school year, the two attended Appomattox Regional Governor's School while Cordrey was a freshman and Mincks was a senior. The high school connection hasn't been lost on the duo during rehearsals for the two-person show.
"We've had some interesting improvs about proms and first kisses and spin the bottle," says director Josh Chenard. "It's been kind of an interesting journey for all of us."
Written by Australian playwright Declan Greene, "Moth" concerns two misfit teens growing up in the suburbs. Tackling themes of bullying and unpopularity, Chenard says the show is oddly timely in a post-Parkland world.
"It's particularly apropos of everything happening right now in America, with guns, with violence, with needing to be heard," he says, adding that the work fits the theater company's mission. "TheatreLab really cares about looking at social issues and exposing the community to new work."
Chenard was introduced to the play by TheatreLab artistic director Deejay Gray, and says he was "overwhelmed" when he first read it.
"I just fell in love with it right away. Even at reading, it reads like a narrative novel. It is so rich," he says. "This feels very literature-based. It feels very smart."
In the show, Cordrey portrays Claryssa, an artistic. emo, Wiccan, goth girl who is romantically interested in her friend Sebastian.
"Claryssa is not very nice, but that comes from her own insecurity," Cordrey says. "It's kind of her own defensive mechanism. She's only slightly more popular than Sebastian. She uses [her] quick wit and fists and anger to mask the really sensitive girl that she is within."
Mincks plays Sebastian, an anime-obsessed 15-year-old with an overactive imagination.
"He's a bit of a mess. He's got grease in his hair, and his clothes are always dirty, and he smells bad, but he doesn't care," Mincks says. "He's basically every kid at school who is ostracized, every kid who is bullied, but he also has this incredible spark."
A surprise for Mincks was hearing from Cordrey during rehearsals that she always thought of him as one of the cool kids in high school.
"I rejected that immediately. That doesn't make any sense to me," Mincks says, noting that as someone who was often cast in lead roles at an arts high school, he can see how Cordrey might perceive that. "As cool as that was, I still had all of the insecurities that every kid goes through."
For his part, Mincks thought Cordrey was shy and timid, which time has not borne out.
Chenard says elements of the script are demanding on both actors, as they have to portray multiple people, including bullies and each other's parents. Cordrey says she's never played more than two roles in the same show, and now has to portray a dozen characters.
"It's been quite a challenge, especially at the end of the play," she says. "It's snapping between characters really, really quickly."
Though it deals with depressing subjects, Cordrey stresses that the show is hilarious and relevant to today's world.
"It's very dark, but at points very funny and very realistic," Cordrey says. "Bullying is always going to be a part of our conversation as a society, and this play handles it in a really interesting and thought-provoking and sensitive way."
Chenard says the play is a coming of age tale for today's generation, and that it feels authentic to the teenage experience.
"The story does let you witness what happens to young adults when they fall through the cracks, or do not feel heard, or do not feel understood, and are sometimes brought to the brink of their own sanity." S
"Moth" plays April 13-28 at TheatreLab, 300 E. Broad St. For information, visit theatrelabrva.org or call 506-3533.