Actor and Twin Cities native Ali Rose Dachis digs into a challenging role as a teenager in search of herself.
Remember this name: Ali Rose Dachis.
The 24-year-old Twin Cities-bred actor with a penetrating gaze, easy manner and quick smile has the ineffable mix of feral hunger and craft, honed in the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA program, that casting directors zero in on when trying to find a star.
"Ali definitely has got the 'it' factor -- great skills, incredible stamina and this big love of investigating the play and its characters," said director Ben McGovern, who worked with Dachis last year in "Circle Mirror Transformation" at the Guthrie. He directs her again in Adam Rapp's "The Edge of Our Bodies," which just opened at the Guthrie's studio space.
"The play is about a young woman who uses language, story and character to create herself," McGovern continued. "Ali is perfect for all of it."
Dachis, who grew up in St. Louis Park, made her professional debut at age 10. She was taking classes at Sabes Jewish Community Center when a friend encouraged her to audition for an Ordway Center production of "The Music Man." Dachis got a part in the ensemble. Her friend was not cast.
"But it turned out OK," said Dachis on Monday, her day off, as she was between errands and yoga. "She went into public health and serves humanity in a different way."
In "Edge of Our Bodies," Dachis plays Bernadette, a smart, precocious 16-year-old actor and aspiring writer whoruns away from her boarding school. She takes a train to New York to meet her boyfriend, encountering some characters along the way.
"She talks about everything -- first love, first sexual experiences, dealing with death for the first time," said Dachis. "Each one of those experiences is quite profound and I can easily relate to them. But for the sake of my own health and the telling of this story, I try not to go too far into my own personal life with those memories."
'Sly, theatrical' play
Rapp has written a play that "reads like literature, but comes to life in a slyly theatrical way," said McGovern. "It seems straightforward but is deceptive and complex in the theatrical world it paints. Bernadette's using other characters to express what's going on inside herself."
Dachis seems to have a thing for playing 16-year-olds lately. Lauren, the closed, petulant teen in "Circle Mirror Transformation" at the Guthrie last year, is the same age. But that role was more proscribed.
Bernadette is neither standoffish nor a bystander in "Edge of Our Bodies."
"She drives everything, so we see everything from her perspective and she gets into your head, into your hearts and minds in a different way," Dachis said. "She's a growing young lady trying to come into herself. She's made her mistakes along the way but she's incredibly smart, so she's learning from them."
Dachis, who has acted at the Children's Theatre and elsewhere, had just moved to New York when she got the call: Ali, come home.
"I picked this play with her in mind," said McGovern. "When you work with people, it's not just about their skills. It's also about whether or not they're pleasant to be around, to work with. Ali makes me look forward to coming to rehearsal every time. She just has this incredible work ethic."
Prepping for the role
When Dachis found out she was cast in Rapp's moody play, she decided to immerse herself in Bernadette's world.
She read all the books referenced in "Edge of Our Bodies," including Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth" and Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar."
She also listened to the music her character talks about, an eclectic song list that she proudly showed off on her smartphone during an interview at the Guthrie. It includes Otis Redding, Radiohead and the Magnetic Fields.
"I had a really good summer," she said.
And what would she be doing if not acting?
"Well, I'm sure I could find something," she said. "But I can't think of anything right now."
If Dachis, who is 5 feet 3, is on a roll with teens, it is continuing. She has been cast as teenage lover Juliet in the Southwest Shakespeare Company's production of "Romeo and Juliet."
"I'm trying to have a little fun," she said. "It's the only thing I can do."