BWW Interviews: Crystal and Justin O'Brien Chat About LIFE IS A DREAM, Performing Together & Successful Relationships

Main Street Theater's production of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's LIFE IS A DREAM, translated by Nilo Cruz, began previews on Saturday, September 15, 2012. Following their first preview, I had a chance to sit down with Crystal O'Brien, who plays Estrella, and her husband Justin O'Brien, who plays Astolfo. On a lovely almost Fall-like Sunday morning, we met at the exquisite Prego on Amherst. Over a charming brunch we discussed LIFE IS A DREAM, acting together, what else they're up to this season, and successful relationships.

LIFE IS A DREAM is currently in previews. What is it like playing opposite each other?

Crystal O'Brien (CO): You know, honestly. This probably sounds cheesy but I was just telling him in the car on the way over here that I'm so grateful to be in the show with him. It's been at least a year and a half, maybe close to two years now. The last one we did together our son was 18 months old, the age of our daughter, and he's three now. It's a treat. It's fun to be able to talk in the car rides in about tactics and intention and just playing stuff. It's kind of a luxury, actually. Really, in other rehearsals you get rehearsal time to work it out and we get any time we want to talk it through and work it out.

Justin O'Brien (JO): I tell people over and over again, acting is reacting. You know, just that idea of being able to listen to your partner and respond to what they give you. Obviously, you have the intentions, tactics, and objectives to go after. But in a shortened rehearsal process, as we've all become accustomed to because of financial constraints and things along those lines, sometimes it's really hard to build that trust and rapport with your fellow actor to go ahead and feel the freedom to think, "you know what, today I'm going to try something different. I'm going to grab your arm, or I'm going to say my line this way or I'm going to go ahead and try this tactic versus this other tactic." Obviously, being able to do it with somebody I trust more than anybody in the world, I know that I am free to play on stage, and I know she is right there with me.

CO: A lot of times when I work with other actors, I feel the need to say, "I'm going to try this today, just so you know. I don't want to throw you off."  I don't feel like I have to do that with Justin.

JO: She should. (They both laugh.)

CO: I should not. No, I hope that actors feel they have that freedom to do that with me, at least.

JO: Yes, it's a blessing. It's been really, really fantastic. The only struggle we have both working together on stage is that we have two little kids that haven't had their mom and dad for the last couple of weeks.

CO: Yeah.

JO: But other than that it's great.

Well, you guys have already answered my second question, so we'll move on to the third one.

CO: Oh yeah? What was the second one?

Is this the first time you two have appeared in a show together?

CO: Oh, okay.

JO: Actually, this was the first time we ever auditioned together for a show. We had never read during an audition with each other. We'd been in previous shows together. We had three rounds of auditions for this production, and finally on the third one we were both called in. I just told Becky, I said, "We've never read together. We've known each other for 10 years, but we've never read together in an audition before." And they we're like, "Okay, well, just go ahead and do it anyways. I'm not going to quit." So, that was a first. But yeah we've be in probably...

CO: Just a handful.

JO: Probably, five or six shows together now.

CO: Yeah.

JO: Yeah. Hopefully, more in the future.

As characters with romantic interests in each other that get skewed and manipulated, is it sometimes hard to turn it off after a rehearsal or show? Do you sometimes go home in character?

JO: I hope so! (Laughs) I'm very much an outside in type of actor. So, the second I put on that costume, I instantly kind of start to assume that role, and the reverse is true. You know, really, as soon as I take the costume off, I'm back to being the same dorky self I normally am, which probably isn't nearly as attractive to Crystal as Astolfo is. (They both laugh.)

CO: Now, yeah, I don't ever have a hard time getting out of character or whatever, but I love watching him on stage. I love working with him on stage, so it does influence other parts of our lives. I come home and find him a little bit sexier. (Laughs.)

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

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