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Common Ground in Relationships : In Heliotrope Theatre's 'Til Death or Whatever Do Us Part,' couples are hurt by over-analyzing

February 09, 1992|T. H. McCULLOH | T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for Valley/Westside Calendar.

Here comes the "R" word again. Relationship! Time was when people just had one. Now they talk about relationships more than they succeed in them, and the divorce rate shows it. As young people in the '50s thought that they invented pop music, as young people in the '60s thought that they invented marijuana, young people today think that they invented the relationship.

They dissect it, they examine it, they talk about it. Playwright Garry Michael Kluger, in his comedy "Till Death or Whatever Do Us Part," opening Friday at the Heliotrope Theatre, wants us to laugh at it. What he finds so funny is that most relationships look alike.

"I've seen a lot of relationships," he says. "I have two brothers who were married and divorced within a couple of years. I noticed that a lot of the same things happen to everybody. It transcends whether it's man and woman--it could be man and man or woman and woman. Everybody thinks what happens to them in their relationship is unique. And it's not. We all go through the same thing. 'We had this argument about dishes.' 'So did we. You had that argument too?' "

During the process of getting the play on stage, Kluger and director Glenn Kelman had a couple of staged readings and, in the discussions afterward, audience members would come up to them and say, "Did you follow me and my girlfriend around?" or "Were you following my husband and me?"

Kluger, who has written for television ("Throb," "Twilight Zone"), believes that today's relationships are no different from those 20 or 50 years ago. So does Kelman.

So do the actors in the production. The plot evolves around two sisters, Maggie and Jillian; Maggie marries Wayne, and Jillian starts a relationship with Wayne's best friend, Adam. It is the counterpoint between the two couples that proves Kluger's point about love being always different but always the same. Anthony James Donato and Julie Dolan are the couple who are dating. Don Most and Caryn Richman are the two who have already tied the knot.

Most is probably best remembered for his 170 episodes as Ralph on television's "Happy Days" and his starring roles in the feature films "Crazy Mama" and "Leo and Loree." He is also no stranger to the stage. It started during his second season in the hit sitcom.

"Every time I had a hiatus, I did a play," he says. "Sometimes I did two." Most has also directed for the stage in New York and Toronto, and last year directed the successful "Doubles" at Hollywood's Tamarind Theatre.

Richman was a junior at Syracuse University, majoring in psychiatric social work, when friends in the profession talked her into auditioning for replacements in Broadway's long-running "Grease." "They dragged me down there," she admits with a laugh, "only because you get to stand on a Broadway stage when you audition for a Broadway show. This was the thrill of a lifetime! There was this air of desperation. I remember thinking, 'What a terrible thing to do for a living.' "

Of course, as the old show-biz story goes, she got the job playing Sandy, the female lead. That led to her starring role as Gidget in television's "The New Gidget," which is still in syndication. She's also been a member of the hit recording group Tuxedo Junction, and stars in the soon-to-be-released feature "Hit Man."

Richman and Most know something about relationships. At 38, Most has been married 10 years. "We're having our 10th anniversary next month," he says. "It was a tough decision for me. I was single and enjoying bachelorhood, and deciding to make that commitment was tough. In life, in everything, too much analysis leads to paralysis."

It's that analysis of relationships that playwright, director and actors in the production think hurts many relationships. To them, these are important issues, and it's those issues in the play that Richman feels "we're all going through, no matter what stage we're in, basic human nature issues." She pauses to think about it, then laughs.

"Every part I've ever done imitates what I'm going through at that time. Dealing with relationships!"

Most flashes an understanding smile at his co-star. "Caryn's going through this right now."

"Yeah," she says.

They both wonder why it isn't possible for people just to find someone and be happy without figuring out why they're happy. "I'm not saying introspection and investigation aren't really important," Richman adds. "I really believe in that. But I do think our generation has sort have come up through the ranks and felt that we wanted to do things differently, so we've investigated ourselves ad nauseam.

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