Dynamic Duo

Lips Together, Teeth Apart Duo Tracee Chimo & Michael Chernus Talk Comedy, History & Sexual Tension

November 11th, 2014 by

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Lips Together, Teeth Apart Duo Tracee Chimo & Michael Che...

It just doesn’t get better than watching Tracee Chimo and Michael Chernus as Chloe and Sam, a pair of siblings who raise a few eyebrows, in Second Stage’s revival of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart. But then again, if you’ve ever spent hours binge-watching Orange Is the New Black in your pjs, you’ve already see Chimo and Chernus in action—he plays Piper’s rustic slacker brother Cal Chapman and she plays his colorful wife Neri Feldman. Below, BroadwayBox chats with the dynamic duo about breaking on stage, ‘90s pop songs and going from lovers to relatives.


My first impression of my co-star was:

Tracee:
Well, I met Chernie many many years ago. Like, six or 7 years ago. I met him at the Sundance Theatre Institute and I have a vivid memory of saying to myself, "That looks like a good guy."

Michael:
I've known Tracee since 2008, we were both members of the acting company at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab. We were in a workshop of Dan Lefranc's play Origin Story that summer together in Utah. She was cast as a sassy teenage girl and I landed the role of the grumpy comic-book storeowner who turns into a hentai octopus monster. Fun! And all we did was laugh. All the time, throughout rehearsal, probably to the profound dismay of everyone around us. So, my first impression of Chimo was that she was funny…and that she thought I was funny. Which is the best. Nothing is better than finding someone who shares your sense of humor.


I think we work so well together over different mediums because:

Tracee:
We trust each other. It's as simple as that. Chernie and I are able to play very freely together because I know he's got my back and I have his.

Michael:
Why, thank you! What a nice compliment. I think we work well together over different mediums, as well! Our experimental modern dance piece is coming along quite nicely, I think. Seriously, though, we respect each other. Plain and simple. We listen to each other. We don't compete with each other. Sometimes, it can feel like your scene partner is at war with you. "I want to be the best! I want all the laughs! Look at me, look at me! Ignore him, ignore him!" But, with Chimo, I feel supported. I feel like we both want the scene to work, we want the play to work, as a whole. We will get offstage and check in with each other about moments but it doesn't feel like our egos are involved. It feels more like "how can we make that moment better?"


My favorite moment onstage with my co-star is:

Tracee:
When we dance together in Act 3.

Michael:
There are so many! The shower scene where she asks to see my "member" which is weird cause she is my sister. That's always fun. At the very end of the play, we get to dance together; we do a modified foxtrot, which is awesome cause Tracee is a great dancer. But, probably, my favorite moment is a very small moment no one knows about. Terrence McNally wrote throughout the play these fascinating, interesting moments where the characters "break" from the reality of the scene for an instant and either speak to themselves or to the ocean or to God or to the audience. These gorgeous little monologues, glimpses of the secret interior lives of the characters. And during these moments, in our production, the other characters "freeze" onstage. We don't move, but just are suspended in whatever pose or position we were in at that moment. Well, early on in previews, we were doing a performance one night. And in Act 2, America Ferrera's character "Sally" has one of these monologues while the rest of us are at the table having lunch and putting the fixings on our hamburgers. I totally forgot that I needed to freeze and was taken off guard when that moment occurred and I was caught pouring ketchup onto my burger. So there I am, "frozen" while America delivers her heartfelt speech, my arm bent tilting this ketchup bottle over my burger while ketchup just keeps pouring out. The ketchup didn't know it was supposed to "freeze." It was ridiculous. And mortifying. And hilarious. So, now Tracee and I try to purposely make each other break and laugh every night in that moment by trying to get caught doing stupid stuff in the "freeze." Stopping mid reach for your glass of iced tea. Freezing with a mouth full of potato chips.

My most memorable performance we’ve shared has to be when:

Tracee:
We do these freezes onstage, where the action of the play stops, and one night in Act 2, when we are preparing burgers for lunch, I caught Chernus in the most awkward, ridiculous freeze ever....and I couldn't stop laughing.

Michael:
See above about the infamous ketchup-pouring-preview incident.

I would say of our transition from a married couple in OITNB to siblings in this:

Tracee:
Easy peas. It's just easy. We're shooting Season 3 while we're also doing this play, and it's just wicked easy. We just enjoy playing together. No matter what the given circumstances happen to be.

Michael:
It’s basically the exact same relationship. Except the siblings in Lips Together have more sexual tension.


My co-star and I bond over:

Tracee:
Our love for life's simple pleasures.

Michael:
We have a very stupid game we play where, in our best Brooklyn-tough guy mobster movie accent, we just point at inanimate objects and say "What is this? A table? What am I supposed to do, put my plate on it." "What is this a chair? What am I supposed to do, sit on it?" Very intellectual, highfalutin stuff.


I’m in awe of my co-star’s ability to:

Tracee:
Stand up for what he believes in, and be completely truthful.

Michael:
Transform. If you saw her in Circle, Mirror, Transformation and then saw her in Bad Jews and then came to Lips Together, Teeth Apart, you would be amazed that this is the same actress playing all three roles. And her use of her physical instrument is impressive. Tracee used to be a dancer, and you can tell. Her grace, her precision, her specificity physically is that of someone who has had years of dance training.


If we were actually spending a 4th of July weekend away together, I would put him/her in charge of:

Tracee:
The burgers.

Michael:
The jokes. Tracee would be in charge of making everyone laugh. And buying the illegal fireworks. She is from Boston and those people don't give a *bleep* about breaking the law.


If I had to describe my co-star in a ‘90s song, it would be:

Tracee:
"Whoomp, There It Is."

Michael:
"MMMBop" by Hanson. Cause once Chimo gets into your head she will never leave.

Don’t miss your chance to see the wonderful star turns by Chimo and Chernie in Lips Together, Teeth Apart at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre through November 23.