Television and theater writer Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life, Wicked) and her husband, character actor Paul Dooley (i.e. your go-to when casting the consoling dad or grandfather), seem to have one of those enviable long-term marriages. They know how to crack each other up, finish each other's sentences and are relentlessly supportive of the other's talents. Or at least they've been in the business long enough where they know how to fake a happy marriage.
From April 5 to May 12 at the Odyssey Theatre, audiences can judge for themselves when the long-term lovebirds will appear on stage in Assisted Living, a two-person play they wrote together.
The play, a passion project the couple had envisioned doing since they were newlyweds that finally came to being when they were stuck in New York last fall during Hurricane Sandy, consists of three scenes of Holzman and Dooley playing four characters with intertwining stories: an aging soap opera star, his longterm girlfriend, a single, middle-aged woman and her curmudgeon of a father.
During an evening break from rehearsals, Holzman and Dooley spoke with L.A. Weekly about their new production:
Why did you decide to do a play with two actors, but four characters?
Holzman: I think you end up writing things you like. I like seeing actors playing two different parts at the same time. I think it's interesting. It kind of shows you two sides of a person.
Dooley: And also there's some resonance between the two characters you play that they have some things in common. That they're the same character, but in another time and place.
Holzman: That's kind of how our play is. The two different characters that we play have secret things in common that I'm hoping it'll be fun for the audience to observe that. Another thing I want to say about that is this was something special in our minds. We wanted something that would be just the two of us, but the story kind of took us in a direction where we wanted more than two people.
Paul, you were a member of Second City with Alan Arkin and Alan Alda and you have a background in improvisation. Are you going to try to throw Winnie off her lines when you're onstage?
Holzman: What really will throw me off is sometimes he'll do something that will make me laugh and I get scared that I'm going to laugh … sometimes he'll say something that it's not even an improv moment that he'll just be so funny … Actually there's a moment in our play where I'm generally supposed to crack up …
Dooley … So I'm going to surprise her every night in that section with some new ideas to really amuse her.
When you are acting, you're both known for playing character actors. [Aside from Dooley's work, Holzman has appeared as Cheryl Hines' therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm.] Will the characters in your play be more of that variety than of traditional leading men and women?
Holzman: Part of it is that we wanted to work together and part of it is we wanted to do something where we were the most important characters in the play. Because let's face it, when I was in a play in the past — and when I was very young I did a lot of plays — … I never had the biggest part.
There's a famous quote from Stanislavsky that there are no small parts, only small actors. And I honestly believe in that. I was proud and happy to get small parts or medium parts if you will, but there's something thrilling about having a bigger part. There's no doubt about it. Wouldn't you agree with that, honey?
Dooley: Always the bigger part. Always.
Holzman: Let's face it if you're writing your own part, you get to write yourself you own big part. It might sound terribly puffed up, but that was part of the fun for us that we're going to have these big parts.
Assisted Living begins April 5.