Mia Rose Kavensky (Cortney Dawson) and Candy Dato (Tabitha Baines)

Mia Rose Kavensky and Candy Dato, photo courtesy of Kim Fuller

What appealed to you about the role of Cortney? What did you feel you could bring to the character?

MIA: The first thing that stood out to me about Cortney is the amount of empathy she possesses regardless of how much trauma she has been through. I feel really similarly to Cortney in that sense. I feel like Cortney and I both use our traumas to connect and help people, which Cortney is constantly trying to do with Hayley. This comes at a cost and it’s a scary, emotional rollercoaster opening your heart, but Cortney struggles through her own insecurities and fears to reach Hayley which is really beautiful. As far as what I can bring is that real life experience. I have not experienced the same kind of trauma as Cortney, but I come from a similar place of understanding and am able to play the reality of Cortney’s inner life instead of an “idea” of what people think someone like Cortney has experienced. 

Upon first reading the script, what impression did you have of the role Tabitha Baines plays in the story of Hayley Jones? Has it changed since then?

CANDY: I first read the script in 2019 and I recall that Tabitha Baines’ role in the story of Hayley Jones was a woman who had a connection to Hayley. This connection was very important to Tabitha, who trusted and opened up to few people. It showed a side of Hayley as a generally kind young woman who had the capacity to have relationships and care about people. At that time, I really didn’t see the relationship between them as strong and meaningful as I do now. I have come to see their relationship as important to Hayley as it is to Tabitha.  Their connection means different things to each of them but it is valuable and meaningful to both of them. Tabitha was drawn to Hayley as so many others are. She sometimes saw Hayley as a young version of herself and at others times just someone she wanted desperately to help. For Tabitha, the trust she feels with Hayley is critical. I saw Tabitha as a kind of rock initially. Although she had a distinct mental illness, she also had a consistent, stable presence. This has not changed, but I now see Tabitha as less depressed and constricted. She has stronger relationships with several other characters, and she is comfortable showing a range of her feelings. I was surprised upon reading that Hayley expressed some feelings about Tabitha being like a mother to her. Although the age difference might make that a logical thing to see in their relationship it was not what I saw initially but can see more of now, particularly as the play unfolds.

As actors, you need to dig deep into a character to completely understand who she is. What can you tell us about your characters of Tabitha and Cortney, and what do their connections to Hayley say about them?

CANDY: Tabitha is a woman who is very disturbed but still has a core of relatedness to the world and people. She has often despaired of having any hope and she withdrew deep within herself for long periods of her adult life. She was fortunate in having had a loving childhood but the challenges she faced often left her bereft, confused, and worse. When the play begins, she has already begun to have tentative relationships with other patients, and ambivalent relationships with the staff who she doesn’t fully trust. Her almost immediate attraction to Hayley is something she doesn’t stop to reflect upon, she just feels drawn to Hayley and quickly develops a protectiveness towards her. This connection shows Tabitha to be loving, caring and even capable, albeit anxious and fearful at times.  

MIA: Cortney is someone who desperately wants to be loved. Not the kind of romantic, heart fluttering love, but the deep, secure, and safe love. She has only let so many people into her life as she is extremely closed off due to her childhood and past experiences; Tabitha is one of those people and when Hayley is admitted, Cortney instinctively feels that Hayley can be that kind of love for her. 

Tabitha claims she’s going to be rescued by Prince William, remaining resolute to that throughout the story. From your vantage, why was this so important to her?

CANDY: Tabitha firmly believes Prince William is going to rescue her. This belief is something she has held onto for literally years. It has sustained her through several incredibly difficult times when she saw no other path toward safety, comfort, and love. Her circumstances have changed, as have the various people around her who have helped her, abused her or just ignored her. The Prince was always there in her mind, a beacon of hope. She lives in reality now, for the most part; however, her belief in the role Prince William will play in her life is too critical for her to give up.

In one scene, Cortney shifts from talking about cheesecake to a quote from Jean Paul-Sartre. What do you feel this says about Cortney?

MIA: I think Cortney likes to hide a lot when things are emotionally scary and uncomfortable. She hides behind cheesecake as well as famous philosophers. When she’s scared, she uses both of those things to connect to people without using her actual experiences. She’s really just looking for ways to connect to others and help them either feel better or understand a different point of view and using a quote from Jean Paul-Sartre is the only way she knows how to reach out. 

As an avid Scrabble player, I just need to know where you fall on the whole rockin’ v. rocking debate.

CANDY: Scrabble is sacrosanct!  Tabitha’s backstory is that she played scrabble with her parents as a child, and they always had the dictionary right at hand. Words that were not in their trusty Webster’s Dictionary were not accepted. Had they lived long enough to encounter the Urban Dictionary they wouldn’t have used it or accepted it as a reasonable source! The atmosphere around a Scrabble game was a warm and friendly learning environment but also challenging and fun.

I don’t recall playing scrabble as a child, but I’ve been an avid Scrabble player off and on throughout my adult life. It just varies with circumstances (who else wants to play etc.). I did play Words with Friends for a while but grew tired of that. I like to have a Scrabble game that begins with some ground rules about what is accepted, and I love it when there’s a dictionary available, although a phone can suffice. I would never accept “rockin” as a valid Scrabble word and would challenge an opponent to show me where it is in the dictionary!

Okay, that’s fair! Word debates aside, the scene in which the Scrabble debate takes place adds some levity to the building tension of the story. I’m curious about your take on humor in dark moments, especially in the Hayley/Tabitha dynamic.

CANDY: I love humor sneaking into dark moments. Perhaps you have even heard me insert humor into real situations when I might feel anxious, bored, funny, or whatever.  I just like humor! Humor in dark frightening moments is particularly appealing. It can allow one to take a breath, to gain perspective, or just plain not have a heart attack! In dark moments that aren’t full of imminent physical danger a bit of humor can also give perspective. It’s like stepping back and laughing at yourself. It doesn’t diminish the darkness but affords a contrast, a break. When you return to the dark, be it even in a few seconds or minutes, you still see and feel the dark but always slightly differently, perhaps stronger or not. Humor during dark moment is not dark humor, although it can be. The Scrabble debate is definitely not dark humor.

If you could unwind Cortney’s life, allowing her to grow without the events leading to her mental illness, where, and what, do you believe she would be now?

MIA: Oh, this is a good question. Cortney’s only in her mid-20’s so I believe she’d definitely be in a master’s program at some ivy league school – probably Harvard. She’d be completing her Master’s in Philosophy and would go on to teach at a prestigious university where she is able to connect with students on a more personal level. She’d also probably win a Nobel Peace prize eventually without even meaning to. 

Cortney and Hayley share a special bond. How would you define their relationship?

MIA: You know when you walk in a room, and you meet a person, and you know that person will be in your life for a very long time? Or maybe you have one conversation with someone, and they completely understand you without you even having to explain? That’s what Cortney and Hayley share. They have an intangible element to their friendship that makes them feel safe and secure. 

The Girl with the Red Hair delves deeply into the struggles of individuals facing mental illnesses. How has your work as Tabitha and Cortney altered your view of these issues in your life?

CANDY: My views on individuals facing mental illness hasn’t changed much since I’ve delved into the struggles of the characters in the play. I’ve worked in the mental health field as a therapist for many years (decades LOL) and as a nurse, administrator, and college professor. I’ve also dealt with my own issues of depression, insecurity, family tensions, romantic disappointments and more. I like to think I’ve dealt with these issues, and I have to a large extent, but I have found that some struggles remain or at least have left a mark. I always felt that it was an honor to enter into the inner life of someone I was working with. When I first began studying acting, just seven years ago, I felt like I had so many moving stories within me. They are still there, and I know they inform my work; however, it is the ways in which they resonate within me personally that is the most important thing in acting.  

My portrayal of Tabitha draws upon several clients I worked with over the years. Her need to maintain what a clinician would call a delusion resonates deeply within me as a need for hope. Like the many clients I knew, Tabitha also gives me an opportunity to look into my own soul.

MIA: Working on GWTRH and diving into Cortney’s psyche has made me really sensitive to the word “Crazy” when describing mental illness. Nobody in this world is “crazy,” people have just been through a lot. Life is hard and it’s not our fault if our traumas or even brain chemicals affect our mental health in ways that other people see as “crazy.” Mental Health should be taken as seriously as we take physical health. It’s something every single person should work on as we all deal with this crazy thing called life.