TOWSON — In Towson State University's production of "Under the Gaslight," theheroine Laura shudders and runs as the villain Byke tries to hug her.
"Don't you know your own father," he says, dragging her to him.
The disdain these characters hold for one another -- one, a society maiden unaware of her status since she was switched at birth with a street child; the other, a streetwise swindler seeking quick cash from blackmail -- is intense.
Not at all indicative of the friendlyaffection their portrayers -- Joy Schiebel of Sykesville and Bob Johnson of Westminster -- actually hold for each other.
The pair of theater majors -- Schiebel will have a second degree in English when she graduates -- met through a mutual friend in high school.
"We used to go to each other's productions all the time," Johnson said.
Now, at Towson, the two have have worked together on four other productions, including "The Seagull."
In this play, a revised version of a 1867 melodrama which introduced the evil villain tying his victimto a railroad track, both actors say they love their parts. As Laura, Schiebel gets to portray a young woman who flees society status thinking she doesn't belong there, only to regain that status, her inheritance and her man.
But Schiebel says she values the independence Laura discovers more.
"It doesn't just turn out in the end, but she gets some backbone and courage," Schiebel said, referring to her part in freeing the victim from the tracks. "It all comes together at the end of the play."
Johnson said he likes his role because it contains things actors relish.
"This show has scenes an actor would die for," he said. "There's a courtroom scene where (Byke) completely takes over. Then there's the scene where he ties someone to the railroad tracks. . . . There's just so much, and the only way to make it work is to make it absolutely real."
Schiebel says she fell in lovewith theater at the age of 9, when her family took her to see a production of "Hay Fever," in which the main female character stole the show, leaving the audience rolling in laughter.
"At the end, she took a big bow, smiled and waved to me as if she was giving me credit, since I was laughing, too," she said. "It was so alive. I decided then, this is what I want to do."
But the 21-year-old actress didn't begin pursuing her dream until she attended South Carroll High. Her middle school didn't have a theater program and, while her family knewof her desire, they never forced her to perform.
"I'm really gladmy mother never pushed me about this," Schiebel said. "(But when I was at) South Carroll was when I first started telling people that (acting) was what I wanted to do. That's a big part of it, being able tosay (your dream) out loud."
As a freshman at Towson, Schiebel's career started slowly.
"My first year, I was not cast at all, so I directed scenes and things just to stay involved," she said. "Then, my second year, I got a main female part, and everything's just taken off for me."
Johnson discovered his love of theater at a young age.
"My grandparents had me doing soft-shoe routines real early," hesaid. "My parents were always playing show tunes around the house."
Through productions at Westminster High, Western Maryland College's Theatre on the Hill during the summer and September Song musicals in Westminster, Johnson said he found he had a knack for acting.
Infact, he credits Arnie Hayes -- director of September Song -- with strongly encouraging him to become an actor.
After graduation, Schiebel said she intends to take a year off to prepare for graduate school in September 1993.
"I looked into (graduate school) it for thisyear, but I really want to take a year off," she said.
Johnson, however, will immediately head north in search of work as an actor.
"I'm heading to New York in September, moving up there to begin a career," he said. "I don't want to do anything else. (Acting) is just something that I have to do."
Schiebel said she feels the same way about her career.
"I love connecting with the audience," Schiebel said. "No other form of entertainment is so intimate, so thrilling. If the people in the audience get enthused about it and find somethingin our production that relates to their lives, some truth, that's wonderful.
"That's the thing about theater I love the most."
"Under the Gaslight" runs at 8 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday, with additional shows at 8 p.m. Tuesday, through April 16. Tickets are $8 for general admission; $5 for students, senior citizens, faculty, staff, alumni and theater project passport owners, and $3 for Towson State students. Information: 830-2796.