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How Two Married Actors Make It Work On And Off The Stage

12/16/2015 01:07 EST | Updated 12/16/2016 05:12 EST
Guntar Kravis

The commitment needed to make a marriage work is one thing.

Staying the course amid the ups and downs of a husband and wife who both are actors is quite another.

There are no bi-weekly paycheques. Many days are spent away from each other working on jobs in who knows where. It takes a certain patience. A respect for another's pursuit.

Paul Gross and Martha Burns are a married couple that have made it look easy. Both successful in their long careers, they have shown the arts community and the world it can work. Now going on year 28 of marriage, they focus their efforts on making art, making their relationship work and raising two children.

In a bold "life imitates art" type move, they currently are wowing audiences on stage playing a married couple in the hit production of Domesticated. But there is a catch here. This is no normal couple or situation. A breach of trust has occurred in this story, and what plays out in front of the audience is a raw, honest and compelling look at how a couple deals with this adding in the complexities of having children as well.

We have seen married couples telling us stories before. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

Some have worked. Some have not.

The fascinating piece of this is that, in real life, Gross and Burns are a couple who personify one that has it together.

I had the opportunity to discuss their experience and approach with this play, and how almost 30 years later some things are different, while some remain the same.

First time on stage together in 30 years. What was that play? And what was that like?

PG: The play was a farce by Marivaux -- Successful Strategies. A hilarious confection of a play that we largely mangled in a production at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal. While the production was miserable, working together was delightful. And to do so in Montreal was a decided bonus. I think it was Martha who dubbed the production: UNsuccessful Strategies. A perfect description of our failed attempt.

MB: Paul described it well. We stayed together even though we didn't exactly enjoy working together in that one. We thank Montreal. Even though the show was dreadful, the cafés were not!

How is theatre different today in Canada?

PG: The theatre is exactly the same as it was 30 years ago. At least the dressing rooms are. More generally? The theatre seems to be in relatively stable at the moment, unlike its counterparts in film and television. Theatre is always a local event and community commitment to the theatre across the country has remained dedicated. There are ups and downs to be sure, but on the whole it is solid.

MB: (Local) theatre is vibrating with the talents, inventiveness and guts of the next generation. The store front and basement spaces are exciting places to be. I love that Canadian Stage expands our vision with a mix of extraordinary dance, music and performance pieces.

Why do another play together and why this one?

PG: We very rarely are asked to work together in the theatre and when we both read Bruce Norris's play it seemed a perfect one to leap into. Knowing each other as we do was a bonus, since we have such a shorthand we didn't have to spend much time in rehearsal getting to know one another. A lift on an eyebrow and we both know what we're thinking. It is also a meaty work with tremendous characters and the opportunity to do that together was exciting.

MB: Bruce Norris's play is a terrific challenge -- for its style, language and characters. I knew it would be fun to do it with Paul because there would be plenty to talk and argue about. Also, I find doing plays can be lonely so I am happy to set off to work at night with my husband.

How much stage time do you have together? What is that like?

PG: We have quite a lot of stage time together that culminates in an incendiary, surprising, emotional train wreck of a scene that is an absolute wonder to perform -- each time we do it, it is utterly different and that quality is intoxicating for an actor.

MB: Another attractive thing about the play is that I get to do all the talking in Act One. Ha! In Act Two, when Paul starts talking, I am nowhere in sight. Except when we meet for a showdown, which, although painful, is always a surprise and delight to play.

What is the most important message in the play?

PG: I have no idea. That's for the audience to decide.

MB: There are many. "We could try harder to communicate better" is a good 21st century one.

In one sentence, why should people see this play?

PG: Because it is incisive, hilarious, challenging and of our times -- you will think, talk and fight about it and what more could you ask from a night out in the theatre?

MB: This is an engaging extremely well written play about people struggling to get it right -- not necessarily a noble pursuit -- come see why!

What is next for you after the play?

PG: Sleep.

MB: Oh I agree with Paul -- sleep. And reading. A tower of books awaits.

Domesticatedcontinues its extended run until December 20.

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