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THEATER REVIEW : Lifting the Veil on the State of Matrimony : 'Staying Married' portrays the actors' real-life relationship with wit and remarkable candor.

August 11, 1995|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times

BURBANK — "Staying Married" is an uncommonly felicitous work about 10 years of marital ?!*&% .

The production, in its West Coast premiere, dramatizes two people who are married in real life telling the story of their marriage with an artful mix of dialogue, monologue and physical grace. There are no props except a metaphorical rope that stands for things that entwine, bond and unravel these two characters.

The comedy, theatricality and unexpected honesty will strike chords with those married, divorced or about to be married, except that most of us don't have the candor to talk like these people.

Alternately performed solo and tandem-style at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank, it's a wedding cake of a play, short on the sugar, that accomplishes the charming feat of being serious and funny without for a second being dour or sentimental.

The actors are the physically agile Charlie Oates--tall, gangly, with stringy hair falling around his ears--and Moira Keefe, more of a no-nonsense type, but equally mercurial.

Active artists at the Denver Theatre Center who have performed "Staying Married" at theater festivals around the world, Oates and Keefe wrote the piece in collaboration and co-directed it with Youpa Stein. Only an hour long, the production is the theatrical counterpoint to Mark Twain's wonderful line to a friend: "Sorry I wrote you such a long letter, I didn't have time to write a shorter one." When this show is over you want more.

Besides the unadorned performance style, one key to the show's deceptive achievement is the writing. The wife, for instance, reveals her "cardinal rule--never admit to a mistake." As for the husband, he describes his marriage as one of "splashes of paint thrown violently on a canvas."

Basically, the couple's peaks and valleys veer from romance and great early sex to subsequent struggle and strife (such as each participant's secret, hilarious candor about "fantasizing the other dead") to the question of intimacy, which is exposed, for greater effect, almost indirectly.

The fact these opposites stayed married is seen through beguiling wit and wisdom. When she gets depressed, he advises her, "Be patient, go about your business. Clean the house, especially the bathroom. Put the toilet seat down."

Ultimately, the theme is as quiet as the river running through this relationship. "There has to be more softness in marriages than people are willing to admit," says the husband, "or there would be a 90% divorce rate."

Vintage theatergoers and movie fans may be reminded of one of the very best plays and movies ever done on the subject of marriage, "The Four Poster," with the delectably cast Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer in the 1952 film. That's high praise indeed, and well-merited.

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Staying Married."

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

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Ends Aug. 26.

Price: $15.

Call: (818) 841-5421.

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