Home » Barger, Altholz: B Street’s Mary and Rhoda thrilled to be sharing stage in ‘Magi’
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Barger, Altholz: B Street’s Mary and Rhoda thrilled to be sharing stage in ‘Magi’

photographs by Barry Wisdom /

Brittni Barger and Stephanie Altholz star in the B Street Theatre production of “The Gift of the Magi.”

In the interest of completing a team task, or just keeping one’s job, employees are often required to play “nice” with one another when they’d rather be playing a no-stopping-on-cuts-or-blood bout of Alien vs. Predator.

Of course, it’s the goal of every good boss to hire an amiable mix talents and personalities who will complement (if not outwardly compliment), respect, and – ideally – like their co-workers.

This desired dynamic can be challenging to achieve, especially in a creatively competitive environment where most everyone has an opinion of how to achieve success.

So when your workplace is introduced to another Type “A” personality of a similar age and skill set who turns out to be someone with whom you click like a Lego brick – someone who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile – it’s cause for celebration.

Just ask Brittni Barger and Stephanie Altholz, the Mary and Rhoda of the B Street Theatre.

Currently co-starring through Dec. 30 in associate producer Jerry Montoya’s laughter-laden adaptation of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” on the theater’s Family Series stage, the 20-something company members had been fans of each others’ work while paying their dues as interns, children’s theater “tourists,” and box-office clerks.

“When I first saw Stephanie performing, it was during one of the company’s monologue nights,” said Barger. who plays the so-sweet-she’s-dripping-with-honey badger Della in “Magi.“ "I was immediately impressed by the level of her talent. I knew I would learn a lot from her.”
 

Brittni Barger, Dave Pierini and Stephanie Altholz co-starred in 2010’s “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!”

When the pair finally shared a B Street stage in 2010’s “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!,” Barger found herself in the title role of author Barbara Park’s smart-and-sassy young heroine, while Altholz played Jones’ mean-and-testy nemesis, Tattletale May.

It was laughs at first sight.

“Our friendship really blossomed during ‘Junie,’” said Barger. “I think it was the very first day of rehearsal when we became enamored of each other.”

Altholz, who’s a gives a silent nod. “To this day, it’s my favorite show. We still talk about it and how much people loved it and how well Britt and I play off each other.”

When the opportunity to play opposite each other came up again with “Magi,” with Altholz playing Della’s sister-in-law, a very pregnant badger named Winnie, there was a lot of jumping up and down and texting.

Though both are well-trained, accomplished young actresses with star turns at the B Street and beyond (Barger was recently featured as Anne Sullivan in the Sacramento Theatre Company production of “The Miracle Worker,” while Altholz starred in such B Street shows as “Rx,” with both participating in the summer improv and sketch comedy series “B Sketchy”), they’re far from being clones.
 

Brittni Barger (right) starred as Anne Sullivan in the recent Sacramento Theatre Company production of “The Miracle Worker.”

Altholz said one of the reasons they’ve found themselves supporting and not sniping at one another is that their innate personalities tend to steer them toward completely opposite roles, eliminating the possibility of jealousy rearing its titian-hued head. Plus, she added, Barger is just too damn nice to dislike.

“Brittni is a sweet, thoughtful person and she gets cast in thoughtful roles like Annie Sullivan and I’m an inherently mean, vindictive, loud person and I tend to get cast in those kind of roles,” laughed Altholz. “We play off each other really well in person and professionally.”

“Steph has the brains and ideas, and I have the heart,” said Barger, who added that she and Altholz are lifelong members of a mutual-admiration society that both recognizes the weaknesses, and revels in the strengths of the B Street Wonder Twins.

“We are very different for sure,” said Altholz. “She’s very patient and kind, and a nice person to have around all the time – and I’m not.”

Altholz said her mood ring often spans the entire spectrum throughout the course of a day, while the more even-keeled Barger’s might remain dark blue for weeks on end.

“I’m pretty mild-mannered,” said Barger. “It’s hard for me to dislike someone.”
 

Among Stephanie Altholz’s 2012 B Street appearances was as the lead in “Rx.”

“What I really admire about Brittni is her ability to remain unruffled even when things are falling apart. I can get very easily annoyed, distracted and distraught, and can feel like the world is ending, whereas Brittni is able to make friends with everyone and see the positive – whether in a show or in life. I appreciate how she is able to talk me through my angst and get me through things. Britt’s taught me how to embody love on stage – real deep, deep emotions and to feel them. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like Brittni.”

“I know a lot of people who don’t like me,” laughed Barger, “but I won’t name names.”

True to her self-described contradictory nature, Altholz couldn’t let her friend’s statement go unchallenged.

“Everybody does love her – everybody does,” said Altholz.

What Barger loves about her comrade-in-greasepaint is the degree of self-confidence Altholz exhibits onstage.

“The way she can project that confidence in her performances, that lack of questioning – I want to be able to do that one day,” said Barger. “Plus, she also good at accents!”

Altholz said offstage she can be a standoffish grumpy bear even in the midst of the most social of social situations (think Andy Rooney), while Barger would have no qualms in giving “hello hugs” to plague-infected porcupines, but that they also share much – like a twisted sense of humor.

Altholz half-recalls Barger’s celebratory night out following the end of her B Street Theatre internship.

“I woke up in her apartment on her couch with a bowl of mac and cheese in front of me,” said Altholz. She had taken me home and put me in her pajamas – which happened to be onesies – gave me water and put me to sleep. When Hanukkah came around, the first thing she got me were these giant turquoise onesies.”

“Yes, she has a very, very disturbed, dark sense of humor,” Altholz said. “But ultimately, she’s just a very person who takes care of others – me included. That’s why she often gets cast both here and at other theaters in the lead – playing the heart and soul of the show.”

The duo (whose “Magi” castmates include John Lamb, Michael Stevenson and Sam Arnold) said they also share a fierce work ethic, and that they tend to work quickly when it comes to learning lines and hitting marks, which is a good thing because when you and a BFF are playing high-energy, sarcastic forest varmints – and laughing all day long – it tends to require double-timing at some point to catch up.

Brittni Barger and Stephanie Altholz star in “The Gift of the Magi,” playing through Dec. 30 at the B Street Theatre.

“Our first week of rehearsal – and the week leading up to that – was spent talking and laughing so much that we maybe got two real hours of rehearsal in per day,” said Altholz. “That can be one of the great things working with people you like, you do mess around a lot more.”

But for as much fun as Barger and Altholz have sharing a stage (their comedic, rapid-fire exchanges in “Magi” are alone worth the price of admission), they said they are above all else professional actors who are able to convey a mood or emotion even when playing opposite a castmate with whom they have no real relationship.

“It’s easy to have a completely professional relationship,” said Barger. “You choose who your friends are. At the theater you’re doing a job and you‘re cordial and all that, but once you leave through that door, you live your life.”

“The main difference with working with someone you’re not comfortable with offstage is that you don’t feel as comfortable or as safe, which makes it harder to be ‘in the moment,’” said Altholz. “There are really no chance moments on stage.”

For performance schedules, more information, or to buy tickets, please call (916) 443-5300, or go to www.bstreettheatre.org.

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