Mark Roberts has worn a lot of hats during his 30 years in the entertainment industry, and he's putting on a bunch of them this summer.
The screenwriter, playwright, actor, comedian and creator/executive producer of the hit CBS sitcom Mike & Molly has a new play, Where the Great Ones Run, which just opened at Rogue Machine Theater. Also, on June 9, Roberts will star in a Los Angeles revival of the play that launched his career as a TV writer, Couples Counseling Killed Katie. A third play of his, Parasite Drag, which was performed last year in L.A., opens June 20 in Massachusetts.
Your play Parasite Drag, about a hyper-dysfunctional family living in small-town Illinois, had a long, hugely successful run at the Lillian Theater last year. Was it in any way inspired by some of the tensions in your own childhood home?
I wouldn't say “inspired by” as much as “a way of dealing with.” My parents never liked each other when I was growing up, and that made for a very unhappy household. My siblings and I developed our own coping skills, and mine was to jump head first into a world of pretend. I have yet to jump out.
In Parasite Drag you wove a robust comic element into a narrative that was very bleak. Might we expect the same sort of engaging balance in Where the Great Ones Run?
There is humor laced through all my work. Great Ones is no exception, although the tone is more sentimental than Parasite Drag.
What was the inspiration, if any, for Where the Great Ones Run?
It's a goodbye to the small-town life I grew up in
Earlier in your career you wrote for Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, and you are now the creator/executive producer of Mike & Molly, yet you continue an active connection to the theater. Why?
Because I think it's important for me to explore deeper themes in my work — and as a person.
Is the theater something of a creative haven where you can free yourself from the hassles of life as a TV writer?
I used to think that. But any creative adventure is going to have hassles. The only real difference is TV has better food and better parking.
Do the skills and sensibilities of the playwright ever conflict with those of the TV writer?
Not really. We all wear a lot of different hats. You just gotta know which one to wear, and when to wear it.
If you had to choose, which would it be, the stage or television?
Well, that's like asking if I'd pick food over air. I really would have to insist on both.
What themes or ideas would you like to explore in future dramatic works?
My plays are usually about emotional things I'm dealing with or need to deal with. A way of spilling out my psyche onto paper in a dramatic and hopefully entertaining way. And as long as the world stays a sweet, sad complicated place to live, the themes and possibilities are endless.