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THEATER : Drama for Better or Worse : Contrasting styles made for rocky times when Charlie Oates and Moira Keefe were writing their real-life play, 'Staying Married.'

August 04, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

BURBANK — With divorce rates so high, the idea of staying married might seem incongruous. But there are still a majority of marrieds who are staying together.

Among them is the husband and wife team of Charlie Oates and Moira Keefe, creators and performers of "Staying Married," opening this weekend at the Little Victory Theatre.

Santa Barbara native Oates is a performer who teaches in the graduate training program and is company movement coach at Denver Center Theatre, and is head of movement training at Denver's National Conservatory, among other places. Keefe, from Long Island, is also a solo performer whose latest work, "Life Before the Crisis," recently opened in New York City.

They met 10 years ago as students at the University of Montana in Missoula. He said he would never marry a New Yorker, and she said she would never marry a California actor. But since they'd met halfway between, she said, that took the curse off their anxieties.

When the idea for a show about their married life came up--it was Oates' idea, Keefe says--they both jumped at the chance. And they both admit genially that they lived to regret it. It's a good thing that each has a boisterous sense of humor. In going over their married history, and each coming from a different performing discipline, the going was rough.

"We started clashing from the start," Keefe recalls. "It was not a pleasant experience. It was terrible. We had this idea that we would just write this play about our marriage, and it would be really funny. What happens is that in 10 years of marriage, you have your ups and downs." And in rehashing some of their conflicts, she started getting teed-off all over again, Keefe says.

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Oates says, "Initially, for us it was somewhat explosive. It's hard working with your spouse, for starters. And also because we have such different ways of working. I'm very meticulous, and you might say choreographic. Moira is sort of a stream-of-consciousness writer, and likes to work on her feet and bounce ideas off a lot of people. I tend to hide myself away in a studio, with nobody watching, and work things out very carefully. They're very different personal styles. But in the end it really works. It's the best of two worlds."

Both Oates and Keefe admit that she has an up-front, very frank, brutally honest way of telling things, and that's part of the reason the show has received glowing reviews and enthusiastic audiences from its second presentation at the Canada Fringe Festival in Edmonton, Alberta (the first was in Missoula). They have performed the piece internationally, and after the Little Victory production, will be doing it for Ireland's Dublin Theatre Festival.

During rehearsal, for instance, Keefe's honesty led her to write a bit about fantasizing that Oates was dead and she was getting the insurance money. Not a performance has gone by when someone hasn't come up to them afterward and whispered, "I fantasize that, too, but I've never said it."

The prop that ties the show together is a rope--symbolically what binds them--but it is also used as a metaphor, even making them puppets at one point.

Oates says, "It's a very physical show, a pretty theatricalized form. There are traditional-looking scenes. There are wild versions of physical storytelling. It sort of flips all over the place in style. But the fundamentals of marriage are there. Reconciliation, for example, comes up over and over, the various things we associate with marriages that last. Patience, and that sort of thing. The rope is a metaphor for being tied together, being linked somehow by something, whether it's kids, or geography, or whatever."

Keefe says, "It's not your usual marriage play, or relationship play. It's snippets of our lives. There's some serious stuff in it, too. It's not always ha-ha."

Although Oates and Keefe are quite happily married--with children--and quite happy in their careers, Oates does state emphatically, with a laugh, "This is very likely the first and last show we'll do together."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Staying Married."

Location: Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays. Ends Aug. 26.

Price: $15.

Call: (818) 841-5421.

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