Dying City’s Rachel Zampelli: From Shakespeare to a shrink - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Dying City’s Rachel Zampelli: From Shakespeare to a shrink

Rachel Zampelli and Thomas Keegan star in the Washington, D.C.- area premiere of “Dying City” at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. Photo: Scott Suchman.

 For Rachel Zampelli, the role of Kelly, the Type A therapist in Signature Theatre’s production of “Dying City”  is a departure for an actress known for her musical theater chops.

Kelly is a reserved war widow, whose husband Craig (Thomas Keegan) died under suspicious circumstances in Iraq. Kelly’s brother-in-law and Craig’s identical twin Peter (also Keegan) arrives at her New York City apartment unannounced. They have not spoken since Craig’s funeral, and a passive-aggressive argument follows.

Minus Zampelli’s turn as Mustardseed in Folger Theatre’s 2006 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and her role as Callie in No Rules Theatre Company’s 2011 “Stop Kiss,” [hyperlink l] run, Zampelli said her acting career in Washington has consisted almost entirely of musicals.

Concerned about being typecast as a “musical theater person,” the Bowie native has been mulling other performance opportunities. When Keegan sought her advice about “Dying City,” Zampelli  read the script and suggested Matthew Gardiner direct the play at Signature in Arlington, Va. Also, she asked to be involved because she liked the challenge of playing a character to whom she could not relate. Kelly is unlike any role Zampelli has performed in a play or musical.

“I don’t even have many friends like this woman,” she said. “Can I do this? That was a definite draw.”

Rachel Zampelli takes on a new challenge playing a Type A therapist named Kelly in “Dying City” at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. Photo: Signature Theatre

Zampelli said she is intrigued by people like Kelly “who just seem like they have their shit together. I stress seem. It’s exhausting for me, the amount that [Kelly] holds back. The fights she gets into. The way she gets blown over. How is this woman so reserved? It’s amazing.”

The Harpers Ferry. W.Va., resident prepared for “Dying City” by listening to a self-recording of her lines during her hour-and 20-minute plus commute. A big part of the play is what is left unsaid, especially for Kelly, Zampelli explained. “I need to get what I’m saying out of the way to concentrate on what I’m not saying.”

In addition, Zampelli said, “Dying City” playwright Christopher Shinn recommended she read “Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: A Practitioner’s Guide” by Nancy McWilliams, a book Kelly would have read while studying to become a therapist. Zampelli highlighted things she found interesting as well as content she thought Kelly would have highlighted. Of particular interest to Zampelli was the chapter on self-care because Kelly starts as a passive person but ultimately decides to care for herself at the expense of others.

Zampelli’s shift toward non-musical theater continues in 2013 when she performs in “Crimes of the Heart” in April at Signature. But Zampelli remains interested in musicals.

“When you do one, you miss the other,” she said.

“Dying City” is playing at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., through Nov. 25. For tickets, call 703.573.7328 or visit  the Signature Theatre’s website





About the author

Megan Kuhn

Megan Kuhn is a financial literacy advocate by day and a theater fan by night. One of her favorite possessions is the red jacket from “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” that she purchased at a costume sale at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Contact the author.

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