Odd couples have always found a home in the theater, from Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth to Oscar and Felix. Following that tradition, local actors Linda Howard and Richard Pallaziol are bringing their take on dysfunctional duos to St. Helena’s White Barn in “Two Can Play That Game,” a collection of five comic one-act plays on Nov. 16 and 17.
The short comedies – from such playwrights as Christopher Durang, David Ives, Robert Anderson, and Shel Siverstein – comprise a banquet of behavior, from a bickering old man and woman who can’t remember their names to a quack professor and his love-struck student who bond over a fake foreign language.
“We like these works for their comic potential,” said Howard, who has acted on stages around the Napa Valley for more than three decades, including at the White Barn. “Most dramas explore the dark side of relationships, so we forget how funny they can be as well.”
Pallaziol, who has worked in theater for 45 years, concurs: “A couple talking about their love is a drama. But a couple acting out their love is a comedy.”
The two actors have known each other for 25 years. They met during a production of “The Fantasticks” at the White Barn in the late 1980s. The onstage rapport they share has been evident in a number of shows since, including last year’s premiere of a one-act drama, “The President’s Widow,” at the Barn.
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That theatrical chemistry, particularly in comedic roles, recalls luminaries like Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the team who brought quirky, quick-fire comedy to Broadway and TV in the early 1960s. Though Pallaziol plays down the comparison (except to note that Howard “is a joy to work with – very professional and very funny!”), he acknowledges that making good comedy onstage can be a tricky undertaking.
“A comedy is like a soufflé: there is only one correct choice of ingredients, one temperature, one amount of time. The soufflé either rises and sets, or it falls and dies. There is no middle ground,” he said. “So the timing is sacrosanct, and to that, actors add characterization to support the timing.”
Presented in semi-staged, reader’s-theater style, the five one-act plays give both actors a certain freedom over a more formal production. “A staged reading enables us not only to get right to the fun of performance in a short amount of time, but also to worry much less about memorizing lines and the set and costumes and make-up, and all of those elements that actually interfere with the actors’ process,” said Howard.
This production will be the last in Pallaziol’s theatrical career, before he pursues retirement and other interests. Though Howard and other thespians lament his departure, Pallaziol himself is fairly sanguine about taking his last bow: “How wonderful to go out with the finest music there is to an actor’s ear – the sound of laughter!”
“Two Can Play That Game” will play at the White Barn in St. Helena, 2727 Sulphur Springs Avenue, on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved online at www.brownpapertickets.com or through the box office at 707-987-8225.