by Sharr White
directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
through June 9
Annapurna is one of the highest mountain peaks of the Himalayas, considered themost dangerous. Yet that does not stop climbers from risking their lives. Theirs is an extreme form of commitment. Sharr White uses scaling the mountain range as a symbol in his new play Annapurna now at the Odyssey through June 9. Megan Mullally and husband Nick Offerman under Bart DeLorenzo’s steady hand work a sometimes pleasurable, oft times painful but worthwhile 90-minute encounter that puts a whole new spin on marital fidelity.
In a rundown trailer somewhere in the mountains of Colorado Emma (Mullally) faces her husband Ulysses (Offerman) for the first time in twenty years. The play begins with a series of blackout scenes laced with lots of laughs, making the uncomfortable confrontation awkward and amusing rather than flatout confrontational. In fact, the entire first section of the play shows the characters attempting to catch up by filling in details, but they keep avoiding issues, especially what happened the night Emma walked out on Ulysses with their 5 year-old son Sam. She’s since met another man Peter, and Ulysses is now dying of a form of lung cancer. When her mother died, letters that he had written surface and she eventually learns of his condition. Has she come to help him through his final days? Does she want to make up for lost time and perhaps renew some kind of relationship, particularly for Sam’s sake? He will be joining them shortly, according to Emma, and has viewed his poet dad, as seen solely through the letters, as some kind of hero. Sam has also put the blame on Emma for not filling him in on the past and keeping him out of touch with Ulysses. Only she knows the horrible reason and has kept it buried for 20 years.
The past is not resolved until late in the script so what we get for the big space in the middle is Emma cleaning up the trailer and chastising Ulysses for his unkempt living conditions, and him trying to send her packing, as he is too proud to accept her kindnesses. When we finally get to the reason Emma left, it’s a heartbreaking moment for both of them. However, the closure tends not to divide but unite them. Without disclosing the reason, suffice to say that Ulysses has always been a wicked alcoholic, and in spite of their love for one another, things went terribly wrong. Emma’s second relationship with Peter has been abusive, so her emotional life did not really improve after Ulysses. Both are severely damaged, yet they find refuge in each other. Ulysses, in spite of his illness, has managed to scratch out an epic poem in which he compares the climbing of Annapurna to his failure but intense desire for commitment to Emma. It’s never too late to pick up the pieces.
A note about Thomas A. Walsh’s vivid scenic design of the trailer: there’s wonderfully detailed contrast between the squalor within and the surrounding Colorado mountains, which provide much needed light and inspiration.
White’s poetry is endearing and quite lovely…and his dialogue, sharp, funny and consistently very honest, so the long wait to find the answers is hardly dull, and especially with the riveting and sensitive work form both Mullally and Offerman. It is sheer joy to see them work together with such openness and truth. Regardless of what she does – even when she’s dusting or preparing an avocado & cheese sandwich – Mullally is always interesting to watch, and Offerman’s volatile transitions/mood swings are brilliantly executed. DeLorenzo knows his actors well, so this quartet of White, DeLorenzo, Mullally and Offerman is a marriage made in heaven.
(photo credit: Enci/top photo: Ron Sossi)
5 out of 5 stars
New York, NY — (SBWIRE) — 04/23/2013 – Megan Mullally, two-time Emmy-winning star of the groundbreaking hit TV series “Will & Grace,” appeared in three, rare, sold-out concerts for the acclaimed “Broadway @ The Art House” series in Provincetown, MA this past August. Series host and pianist Seth Rudetsky, the multi-hyphenate Sirius/XM Radio Star-musician-comedian-author whom the New York Times just dubbed “The Mayor of Broadway,” presents these special performances filmed and edited exclusively through Seth TV, his own web-television network. “An Evening With Megan Mullally” premiered as a pay-per-view special on http://www.sethtv.com beginning Monday, April 22.
Megan Mullally is best known for playing the iconic role of Karen Walker on “Will & Grace” for which she won two Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four consecutive Golden Globe Award nominations. She made her Broadway debut as Marty in the 1994 revival of “Grease” with Rosie O’Donnell and next appeared as Rosemary in the hit 1995 revival of “How to Succeed…” opposite Matthew Broderick. In 2007, she starred as Elizabeth in Mel Brooks’ original Broadway musical, “Young Frankenstein.” She appears on all three cast albums. Megan has also been seen on TV’s “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Wings,” “Ned and Stacey,” “Mad About You,” “Caroline in the City,” “Just Shoot Me!,” and “Murder, She Wrote.” She hosted her own talk show titled “The Megan Mullally Show,” and has hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and guest-hosted “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Most recently she’s been seen on “30 Rock,” “Kathy Griffin: My Life on The D-List,” “Campus Ladies,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Party Down,” “Children’s Hospital,” “Happy Endings,” and “Breaking In.” Her film work includes “Anywhere But Here” with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, “About Last Night” with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, “Speaking of Sex” with James Spader, “Stealing Harvard” with Tom Green and Jason Lee, and the 2009 remake of “Fame.”
There may be many among her millions of “Will & Grace” fans who are unaware that Ms. Mullally is also an accomplished Broadway musical-theater star. What perhaps differentiates this TV special from others is the seamless mix of intimate (often hilarious) behind-the-scenes stories from one of TV’s (and Broadway’s) brightest stars – prompted by the encyclopedic-minded Rudetsky’s probing, funny, revealing questions – and her stellar singing of unique repertoire. If there are stories from Megan Mullally’s TV, film & Broadway career that you’ve always wanted to hear her tell, and songs that you’ve always wanted to hear her sing…chances are, that you’ll see and hear them here (and possibly only here) – in “An Evening with Megan Mullally“!
About Seth TV
Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon host on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s “On Broadway” as well as the host of “Seth Speaks” on Sirius/XM Stars. As a pianist, Seth has played for more than a dozen Broadway shows including Ragtime, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. He was the Artistic Producer/Music Director for the first five annual Actors Fund Fall Concerts including Dreamgirls with Audra MacDonald (recorded on Nonesuch Records) and Hair with Jennifer Hudson (recorded on Ghostlight Records). In 2007 he made his Broadway acting debut playing Sheldon (singing “Magic to Do” in a devastating unitard) in The Ritz directed by Joe Mantello for The Roundabout Theater. Off-Broadway he wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed Rhapsody of Seth (directed by Peter Flynn) at the Actors Playhouse and has also appeared on TV on “Law and Order,” “Law and Order C.I.” and had a recurring role on “All My Children.” As an author, he penned the non-fiction “Q Guide to Broadway,” the novel “Broadway Nights” and the recently published “My Awesome Popularity/Awful Popularity Plan” (Random House). “Broadway Nights” is available on Audible.com starring Kristin Chenoweth, Andrea Martin and Jonathan Groff and “My Awesome Popularity/Awful Popularity Plan” stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ana Gasteyer and Megan Hilty. Seth played himself on “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” was the vocal coach on MTV’s “Legally Blonde” reality show and starred opposite Sutton Foster in They’re Playing Our Song for the Actors Fund. Recently, he co-wrote and starred in Disaster! (which The New York Times called a “triumph”). He was nominated for an Emmy Award three times for his work as a comedy writer on the The Rosie O’Donnell Show and a Grammy Award for the CD of his Actors Fund concert of Hair (Ghostlight Records). He currently writes a weekly column on Playbill.com and tours the country doing master classes and performing his one-man show “Deconstructing Broadway.” This year he added “television mogul” to that long list when Seth TV, his new, web-based entertainment network, launched. Seth TV is described as: “The only place to get Seth’s Reality series, plus additional exclusive shows including his Broadway Chatterbox series, Celebrity Concerts & Events, and more! You never know what the stars will say or do…or sing, on Seth TV!”
Seth TV presents
An Evening with Megan Mullally
featuring Seth Rudetsky
as pianist and host
(Filmed live August 23 & 24, 2012)
at The Art House theater in Provincetown, MA
By Bill Raden Mon., Apr. 15 2013 at 3:14 PM
Ask someone to define “Hollywood marriage” — as in the working-actor-to-working-actor kind — and chances are the answer you get won’t contain words like “stable” or “secure” or “long-term” or “a good bet.”
The longstanding truth is that there is something about the physical intimacy and emotional vulnerability required by the job of working actor that, when combined with the big business deal-making and the grinding time demands made by the Hollywood-production machine, is generally not a recipe for real-life relationship happy endings.
All of which makes the ten years of marriage of stage and TV stars Megan Mullally (Will and Grace) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) something of a significant achievement. (Their tenth anniversary is Sept. 20.) Perhaps even more unusual is that the couple will be commemorating their decade-long romance by returning to where it all began — to their longtime home theater company, the Evidence Room, to appear in the Odyssey Theatre co-production of playwright Sharr White’s two-character dramaAnnapurna, which opens on Saturday.
To discover the secret of their success at both their craft and their enduring monogamy,LA Weekly recently met with the couple in the Odyssey’s green room between rehearsals.
|Megan & Nick on the set
By now, both Mullally and Offerman’s respective TV hits have made them more than just household names. Their faces and off-kilter comedic characterizations have been a staple on NBC for most of this century. Still, it comes as something of a surprise to see them in the flesh, sitting across a table and holding hands like Beauty and the Beast on a first date. Mullally, a petite and still strikingly delicate Irish beauty is primly turned out and practically vibrates with a kinetic enthusiasm, while Offerman, with his sleepy bulldog eyes and grizzled face — today he sports a ragged, gray-flecked beard for his dissipated stage character — looks like he might have spent the night sleeping behind the Odyssey dumpster.
What is quickly apparent, however, is just how comfortable and emotionally in-tune they are with each other; each endearingly self-deprecating and deferential to their mate even as they speak in the kind of couple’s shorthand in which one steps in to seamlessly finish the other’s thought.
Those thoughts are now about Annapurna and their return to working with director, Evidence Room Artistic Director and longtime friend Bart DeLorenzo. Offerman says that the decision to do the play came from their need to escape the devouring production and promotion commitments of their hectic television and film schedules. “All of which is really fun,” he explains, “but ultimately just crams your calendar. And especially with TV and film work, I can’t stress enough how much that fills your [time] with superfluous activities, namely like press junkets and phone interviews.”
It was, adds Mullally, about devoting some precious time to themselves and their marriage. “We deliberately decided to do a play together,” she says, “so we could like pull it back a little bit, because we’re so burned out. And we really wanted to just have this time where we’re focusing on the play and we don’t have a lot of other things we have to do. And spend this kind of time together.”
Making that time, it turns out, was no mean feat. Apart from Parks and Recreation, in which Mullally also has a recurring role as the ex-wife of Offerman’s character Ron Swanson, the two also appear on the Adult Swim black-comedy series Childrens Hospitaland in the last year have starred together in two independent features: the Offerman co-produced comedy Somebody Up There likes Me and the upcoming CBS Films release of the Donnie Darko-esque coming-of-age comedy The Kings of Summer.
Toss in recent side projects like Mullally’s “sort of Andrews Sisters-for-now” retro pop duo (with Stephanie Hunt), Nancy & Beth, or Offerman’s touring show American Ham, an evening of original humor and comic songs that he describes as “less educated, more foul-mouthed Garrison Keillor,” or the pilot for the female-slapstick comedy series Two Idiotsthat Mullally and her writing partner Tina Kapousis just sold to IFC, and it’s easy to understand why it took the couple nearly four months merely to find the two hours for a table reading of Annapurna with DeLorenzo and Odyssey Associate Artistic Director Beth Hogan.
|Director Bart DeLorenzo & the blissful couple
Apart from being a showbiz harbor, however, the play also represents something of a departure in tone and style for both actors. Though laced with humor, Annapurna is a probing and naturalistic dramatic portrayal of the reunion between a dissipated, alcoholism-ravaged and dying poet and his two-decades-estranged ex-wife. It is, says Offerman, the kind of intensely focused and serious work that he hasn’t done since his days on the Chicago stage in the ’90s and that neither actor has had the opportunity to perform with each other until now.
As for working again with DeLorenzo — a vet of numerous L.A. productions at venues such as the Geffen Playhouse and South Coast Rep — they are unanimous in their praise for the director. “He has a mastery of theater knowledge that’s encyclopedic,” Offerman says. “And he brings his intelligence to bear on the work with such a generous enthusiasm that it’s never a drag coming to rehearsal. It never seems like anything but fun.”
Mullally agrees, adding that “none of his shows are ever by the numbers. Like he has some kind of an off-beat take on things. … I think he just has a sense of theater that strangely a lot of theater directors don’t necessarily have to that degree.”
Perhaps part of their unbridled admiration stems from the fact that, in their cases, not only is DeLorenzo a frequent collaborator and something of an artistic mentor, he is also apparently a matchmaker. It was DeLorenzo’s insistence that both Mullally and Offerman be cast in the Evidence Room’s 2000 production of Charles L. Mee’s The Berlin Circle(over director David Schweizer’s objections) that led to the couple even meeting.
“I played this character based on [socialite] Pamela Harriman,” Mullally recalls. “And Nick played a German soldier, so of course we’d fall in love in real life, right? And we had a lot of scenes together, and I thought that he was amazing. Not so much in the play, because when you’re doing the scenes you can’t really be as appreciative … But like between scenes I thought, ‘Oh, he’s funny.’ And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Is he kind of sexy? What’s happening?’” “The lights are often low backstage,” Offerman quips.
What followed was a relatively whirlwind courtship (“I strung him along for a while,” Mullally fondly remembers. “It was really fun.”) that culminated in their top-secret, paparazzi-proofed backyard wedding in 2003 before a small gathering of very surprised but delighted family and close friends.
If their meeting was accidental, their conjugal happiness since has been anything but. “We have a rule that we never take a job that will keep us apart for more than two weeks at a time,” Offerman notes. “So even in the middle of the craziness, we do a really good job of getting to see each other. That rule, I think, should be required of all Hollywood couples because it would have been really easy had we not had that rule to allow things to erode.”
“And,” Mullally adds, “we always spend time together at night. You know, we don’t have kids. So we are able to devote that time to each other.”
And whether or not their trod-boards-together, stay-together philosophy is a general prescriptive for what might be ailing other Hollywood couples, Mullally firmly believes their time on Annapurna will have a rich payout in the couple’s artistic and personal lives. “I think this will be a marker of sorts for us,” she asserts. ” I do think it will deepen and strengthen our relationship even more.”
Annapurna opens at the Odyssey Theatre on Saturday, April 20
by DEBORAH BEHRENS | April 10, 2013
Here’s what über-busy Megan Mullally and hubby Nick Offerman consider a fabulous vacation. Doing a play together in a 99-seat theater on Sepulveda.
“It’s like going to the Bahamas,” Offerman explains, after microwaving a meal of lamb chops, broccoli and other greens — a meal that his character Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation might eat — following a photo shoot at the Odyssey Theatre. “It’s very luxurious to get to dissect and pore over one script over the course of six weeks.”
“We’ve been looking for a play to do together for a while,” says Will & Grace icon Mullally, noshing on her own home-brought carnivore entree of sausage and salad. “But we deliberately wanted to do a play to sort of put the brakes on everything else, you know?”
“So we can’t leave town,” adds Offerman, who ironically is flying out the next morning to tape a segment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon touting Somebody Up There Likes Me, the Bob Byington-directed indie film he produced and stars in with Mullally. And that’s before performing his American Ham comedy/variety show, described as a “hilarious evening of Anecdotes, Songs and Woodworking Tips with minor nudity,” later that night in Monmouth, New Jersey.
“I can’t do a gazillion projects at once anymore,” Mullally admits — but she’s still a multi-tasker. “A great writer friend of mine got an ABC pilot, so this weekend I’m doing the pilot presentation. I need to learn all these lines. Next weekend I’m going to New Orleans to do one of my [Seth Rudetsky - hosted] Broadway concerts. Then we are trying to learn this play plus about 19 other things apiece.”
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation.” Megan Mullally as Karen Walker in “Will & Grace.”
Some of those 19 other things for Mullally include recurring roles on Childrens Hospital, Parks and Recreation, Happy Endingsand Bob’s Burgers, a new show called Axe Cop, promoting indie movie Toy’s House at Sundance (now called Kings of Summer with a May/June release) or writing a half hour comedy pilot for IFC.
She also fronts a girl band called Nancy and Beth with actress/singer Stephanie Hunt (Friday Night Lights; How to Live With Your Parents the Rest of Your Life). The two met onSomebody Up There Likes Me, have performed locally at Largo and just opened for Offerman at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco the previous weekend. The trio stars in a video alongside Amy Poehler, Adam Scott and Alison Brie called Pussy & Weed promoting the Austin-based film.
Meanwhile, Offerman has been busy appearing in films such as Casa De Mi Padre, 21 Jump Street, Smashed and Gay Dude plus Cody Diablo’s upcoming directorial debutParadise. Not to mention appearing on his series, writing a Parks and Rec script, doingAmerican Ham gigs, fielding TV/film offers for himself and Megan, plus plying his trade as a master woodworker in his Offerman Woodshop.
“We haven’t been out to dinner with each other in a long time,” Offerman explains.
“We haven’t been out to any theater here in a long time,” Mullally admits. “I’m just going to confess that right now.”
A Naked Guy Called Gable
It is a sunny but windy Wednesday afternoon when Mullally and Offerman arrive in the Odyssey Theatre’s back parking lot to do a photo shoot for LA STAGE Times. The two are here to promote Sharr White’s two-hander Annapurna, directed by longtime friend andEvidence Room artistic director Bart DeLorenzo, who is also on hand.
Megan Mullally. Photo by Eric Schwabel.
At 54, Mullally is rocking magenta hair and hip glasses, a leopard-print skirt topped by a long fuzzy vest over a cream sweater with butterflies, which is layered over a long-sleeved white shirt. Her shoes are Chanel-style beige pumps with a black toe. Offerman, 42, sports a scruffier look in a blue T-shirt featuring a lumber company logo, khaki pants and straight guy hair. They arrive entourage-free, and Mullally’s done her own make-up in advance. Hunt is on site to shoot some Nancy and Beth photos as well. All three will change into various outfits including formal wear for the outdoor patio location.
The comedy couple are game for anything. They stand next to a Weber grill in formal outfits holding hot dogs and beer for a shot conceived with photographer Eric Schwabel. Annapurna takes place in a dilapidated trailer in Paonia, Colorado with a view of Mount Gunnison. This was their perverse take on it. “There’s nothing worse than a still of two actors on a set in a play,” says Offerman. “This is so much more fun.”
Offerman is low-key and polite in a gallant old-school way. He asks Mullally if he should go put on his “Gable” look, as in Clark, while she and Hunt strike poses. He returns in a black tux with his hair Brylcreemed into a ’30s-style ‘do that indeed makes him look a bit like the Gone With the Wind star. He returns at another point with a Gibson guitar to softly serenade the group with songs ranging from “King of the Road” to “Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian“, while Hunt and Mullally add harmony.
“Stephanie and I have a bit of a one-brain situation happening and it’s really cool,” Mullally explains. “I’ve only had that a couple of times in my career. Of course Nick and I have that kind of connection and I had that with Sean Hayes on Will & Grace, but we don’t really have to talk about it. We just do it at the same time.”
“True,” acknowledges Hunt, who plays the ukulele and writes her own songs. Mullally had asked to hear them during a car ride from Austin to Oklahoma to visit Mullally’s mom. “I said, Okay, I’m going to sing this song I wrote, but you have to sing this one part with me because it doesn’t work unless there is another voice. When I do this, you are going to do that. The moment that we started singing together it was just like, wait a second.”
Nick Offerman. Photo by Eric Schwabel.
Offerman sometimes performs with Nancy and Beth around the country at venues ranging from UCLA’s Royce Hall to NYC’s The Town Hall, where they taped the show for a future TV special. He explains one of the act’s inspirations — “We love Prairie Home Companion and I really look up to Garrison Keillor. When we do [Nancy and Beth] together, it feels the most like that sense of full-value variety, you know? Music and humor. It’s 10 times the show. First of all, it’s kind of embarrassing following them because they are way more entertaining than me. These two beautiful women singing gorgeously and dancing and then I come out. I’m like, ‘All right, now I’m just going to talk for a long time. Sorry, we’ll bring those pretty ladies back after me.’”
Later, Mullally vamps in a long black evening gown in ways that is at times reminiscent of herWill & Grace character Karen, while Offerman does his best leading man pose. The caring in their 13-year relationship and nearly 10-year marriage is on display as she notices he has a shine on his face during shooting. She breaks to get make-up powder and pats him over various shiny spots. The two are veterans of Chicago and LA small theaters with little or no budgets.
They met during the 2000 Evidence Room production of Charles Mee’s The Berlin Circle,directed by David Schweizer at what is now the Bootleg Theater. Defiant Theatre founder and LA transplant Offerman was cast as the comedic sidekick to Mullally’s Pamela Dalrymple, a Sutton Place socialite a la Pamela Harriman. The rest is history, and the course of their relationship was recently outlined from start to finish in New York magazine’s Vulture website.
Steven M. Porter, Nick Offerman, Colleen Kane and Megan Mullally in “Berlin Circle” in 2000. Photo courtesy of Evidence Room Theater.
Mullally was the subject of the third cover story of LA STAGE magazine in March 2001, and the interview was conducted in her then-Harper Avenue duplex in WeHo. Will & Grace was just taking off, and at the end of the two-hour interview, Offerman showed up. Who was this guy kissing her in the hallway?
“Oh my god, right!” she recalls when reminded of that day. “I was thinking the same thing.”
She looks over at him. “It was this guy. How did you get in here? He looks vaguely familiar…”
“I insinuated myself,” smiles Offerman.
In 2008, Mullally did her second interview with the now online LA STAGE Times. She had just turned 50, starred in Young Frankenstein on Broadway the year before and was about to do Adam Bock’s The Receptionist at the Odyssey, directed by DeLorenzo. Annapurna marks not only her return to this theater but Offerman’s as well.
“When I got to LA in ’97,” Offerman explains, “thankfully this great Chicago company calledRoadworks out of Northwestern was bringing a celebrated production of Mike Leigh’sEcstasy here” (to the Odyssey, opening in January 1998). “I have no idea how it came to pass. That was above my pay grade. But they had to replace a guy and they said, ‘Well, it’s a naked drunk guy.’ So someone said, ‘Nick Offerman is in LA’ and they said, ‘Done.’ And it was so fun. It was such a good show, such a great cast and it was over in the L-shaped theater on the end.”
The play opened with Offerman seated on the down stage corner “buck naked and guzzling two cans of real Guinness.
“Then I would bumble around and find a pair of electric blue bikini underwear because it was set in like ’79. I’d put those on and then the play would start properly, and I would attack Rachel Singer, playing the lead, in an ursine way. One night, an elderly lady sitting very close to the front corner when the lights came up, very clearly whispered to her compatriot, ‘I need to get my glasses’.” He starts to laugh heartily as Mullally joins in.
“Probably my mom!” she exclaims. “It sounds like something my mom would say.”
Stephanie Hunt and Megan Mullally of “Nancy and Beth.” Photo by Eric Schwabel.
“I’ll never forget that,” he adds. “She gave me pause.”
Today it was announced that Mary-Louise Parker will star in the fall Broadway premiere ofThe Snow Geese by Annapurna playwright Sharr White and directed by Dan Sullivan. White recently enjoyed a successful Broadway run with The Other Place at Manhattan Theatre Club starring Laurie Metcalf and daughter Zoe Perry, which ended in March. Both are friends with Mullally and Offerman. Mullally considers watching Metcalf’s famous Balm in Gileadperformance for Steppenwolf Theatre Company a seminal theater experience, while Offerman performed with the renowned Chicago troupe.
Annapurna was commissioned by South Coast Repertory and appeared in SCR’s 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival. It premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in November 2011 and was a 2012 finalist for the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. Other White plays include Six Years, which premiered at the 30th-anniversary Humana Festival of New American Plays and was produced around the country. Sunlight was another South Coast Rep commission and subsequently received a National New Play Network rolling world premiere.
Annapurna is the story of a formerly married couple, both of them in their mid-50s. Ulysses is a recovering alcoholic who was once a Western cowboy-poet and English professor, while Emma is an “urbane, often fierce, always protective New Englander” (according to the character description in the script) who left 20 years ago with their son. Ulysses and Emma have not seen or talked to each other since then, until she unexpectedly shows up at the door of his run-down trailer in the Colorado mountains.
White says the impetus for the play came from observing the heightened intimacy a couple he knew shared when the husband was terminally ill with emphysema. Years later, he read a New York Times piece that “profiled estranged couples who come back together when one or the other is ill.” He wanted to pay tribute to the former while building a story around the latter.
Mullally wanted to return to the Odyssey after The Receptionist and had searched for a play to do with Offerman for several years. It never occurred to either that they might find a two-hander. The Odyssey’s artistic director Ron Sossi read a review of Annapurna’s Magic Theatre premiere and asked literary manager Sally Essex-Lopresti to obtain a copy. Both liked it and discussed the piece with associate artistic director Beth Hogan. The Odyssey was granted the rights, and Hogan told DeLorenzo that this might be a good vehicle for the couple.
“Nick and I both liked it, but I wasn’t 100% until we read it out loud,” says Mullally. “We kept trying to schedule a time where we could just find two hours to read the play and we just couldn’t do it. Scheduled it, canceled, schedule it, cancel. Finally Bart and Beth came over at some ridiculously late hour like 10 [pm] or something and we read through it. That’s when I think we were 100% sold. The way that the dramatic elements of the play are modulated is something I don’t think you can really get a feel for entirely until you read it out loud.”
(Click here to read a Q&A interview with White about the characters, working with married celebrities on the play and why his family history led it to be set in Colorado.)
Mullally and Offerman certainly aren’t the first celebrity couple to appear together on stage. In fact they appeared once before in an Evidence Room production of Mayhem in 2003. But while Mullally and Offerman perform regularly in public venues, are there any concerns that audiences are coming to see what they reveal about their private relationship via their characters on stage?
“We’ve worked together on so many different things,” replies Mullally. “I think for both of us it’s really just about the storytelling, so whatever is required. Thank god, the dynamic between Ron and Tammy on Parks and Rec does not spring from our real-life marriage. I don’t think that the dynamic between the two people in this play springs from our real-life marriage either, although you could certainly argue that we are playing these roles, so there are aspects of us that we are bringing…
“Would you please…” interrupts Offerman slowly with mock menace.
Mullally turns to him and says dramatically, “Shut the fuck up.”
They laugh. “He’s trying to be abusive as a joke,” she says.
“It’s really fun,” he offers, about playing opposite each other. “We are lucky because we have a healthy relationship and so it’s fun in a play like this or when we do Parks and Rec. We get to unload on each other emotionally. It’s like something a therapist would have you do like, ‘Let’s do role-playing where you are a terrible drunk and you are just horribly screaming at your wife.’”
“It’s true,” adds Mullally. “We were just saying in the car last night that we are kind of secretly thrilled that we are the only people in the cast!” She laughs and says in a diva voice, “You don’t have to deal with any of these annoying others! It’s just really nice, because obviously we have a shorthand and we have a shorthand with Bart so it’s a great little triangle.”
“At this point it’s crazy shorthand,” DeLorenzo concurs. The trio has done numerous shows together as part of the Evidence Room. “We have all these shared jokes together, we’ve seen all the same things together…and there’s a lot of trust. That’s what’s so wonderful about working with people who you’ve been in the trenches with so many times over so many years. It’s deeper. I have to say that it’s something like love, which is an extreme form of trust. It’s just very very special.”
“I love working with Bart,” smiles Mullally. “He’s so laid back but he is so smart. He’s a really good director and never loses his cool. I love working at the Odyssey. I had such a good time doing The Receptionist here. I love this [theater company] has been loping along for 40 years.”
“They should have a parade for the Odyssey Theatre,” adds Offerman. “It’s such a quietly established foundation block and has been doing great solid work.”
“I love the no-frills aspect of it, too,” stresses Mullally. “It’s kind of like indie movies. I think we would rather do an indie where everybody is pitching in and everybody is on a level playing field or a play at the Odyssey where it’s just simple. Instead of some big network television show where there’s too many cooks in the kitchen or some big studio movie where you don’t have a creative freedom or a Broadway show where there is so much tension and it’s only about the Tonys.”
So if Mullally were offered another Broadway show, would she do it?
Nick Offerman. Photo by Eric Schwabel.
“I don’t know,” she sighs. “I think right now the landscape has changed for us because the last time I did a Broadway show wasYoung Frankenstein in 2008. It was before Nick was on Parks and Rec and became an international superstar.”
“And an international male catalogue model,” deadpans Offerman.
“That’s right,” she laughs. “We were a little more free and easy and could pack up our poodles in our old kit bag and get a month-to-month rental in New York. We can’t really do that right now because we’ve got more stuff going on. I don’t know that I would be down for another big musical because it’s a year or more commitment. I think I would love to do a play, but the ideal situation would be if Nick and I could do something together in a limited run. Like this Odyssey show.”
Celebrity is a Service Business
With their 10-year anniversary coming up, what’s a recipe for their success? Their rule is to never spend more than two weeks apart, but they’ve done a spate of movies and toured together with their acts. Not many couples can balance the personal and professional. Surprisingly, Mullally’s answer is theater.
“I think it’s both that we have a really solid relationship and we are best friends coupled with our mutual theater backgrounds,” she says. “Our theater backgrounds independent of one another and together. Coming from theater and having that be your training ground or your proving ground just sets you up better to have a career in the entertainment industry because it gives you discipline.”
Megan Mullally and Jennifer Finnegan in “The Receptionist” at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in 2009.
During her Will & Grace years Mullally says you could instantly tell which guest star had a theater training.
“The people who came on who had a theater background were fine, “ she remembers. “But we also had so many big movie stars. We had people faint and throw up, or turn white as a sheet and get really clammy before the show because they were absolutely paralyzed with fear. They’d never done anything in front of a live audience.”
Offerman doesn’t have theater veterans on his show, except Amy Poehler, who comes from improv and sketch comedy. The two knew each other in Chicago.
“A few cast members sort of came up through the ranks of her Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York but really not a lot of theater experience,” he explains. “It’s funny. When people hear that I am from Chicago, they immediately assume that I’m from Second City or that I’m a stand-up. I’ve never set foot in Second City. I knew Amy in the early ’90s only socially because coincidentally one of our company members lived in a house with one of her company members so we saw each other at parties.”
A reformed theater snob, Offerman says he’s come to appreciate the value of improv or sketch comedy.
“You dive so deeply into your legit theater life that you rarely get to even see your best friend’s production of Hamlet because you are too busy doing your own show. At that time, I remember thinking, so let me get this straight. You make stuff up in front of people in a bar. Okay, well, that sounds great. I’m changing the world here with this Harold Pinter play so you have fun. It took me a long time to realize what a legitimate career path it was.”
Michael Cassady and Nick Offerman in “Killers” in 2005. Photo courtesy of Evidence Room Theater.
“As I mount a production ofCoriolanus for seven people in Reseda, yeah,” he adds. “Like I’m doing great work.”
Four years ago Mullally railed against people wanting fame for its own sake. She said she hadn’t come to terms with the notion of fame or celebrity but that people needed to be in it to make something good for the audience.
“That still holds true,” she says. “There is that double bind. The nice part about having some kind of recognition is that it does open doors to other things and other projects. Working with good people. That kind of thing. At least in my case with Will & Grace, where we made a lot of money, it allows you the luxury to do 99-seat theater in Los Angeles for…what is it, $7? I forget. I wouldn’t be able to do that if it hadn’t been for my so-called celebrity because I’d probably have a regular job somewhere to pay my rent. A real job.”
“I think something that Megan and I share is that we are not in the business for the flashy parts of it,” Offerman concurs. “They’re wonderful sort of side bonuses, but at the end of the day we’re just happy if we can come do a play. We hope that we just get to keep doing good work. Something like Ron Swanson is nice because it brings more good work, it brings more good writing across my desk and so hopefully we’ll get to continue to have these opportunities. But I think generally I would rather stay the woodworker theater guy who worked on a TV show for a time.”
“The notion of celebrity is gross to me,” adds Mullally. “The fact is we are really in a service industry. My service, I think, is to provide an entertainment of some sort for an audience and so I try to do that to the best of my abilities. It seems like that’s how everybody should feel about it but people don’t.”
Mullally gives Offerman a touch-up during the photo shoot. Photo by Deborah Behrens.
“This American Ham tour afforded me the treat of walking around the old neighborhoods that I’ve lived in — Chicago and Seattle and New York — to check out my old haunts,” explains Offerman. “I can’t really enjoy them anymore because it’s exactly where the kind of people who watch my show go. You know, where smart people with a sense of humor congregate?” he laughs. “So my favorite places are kind of ruined, because I can’t just go get a burger and beer. I’ve become an object of attention.”
Offerman admits he never dreamed he would get a part that would attain this level of fame and he understands the fleeting nature of its popularity.
“I definitely work hard to maintain my wood shop. I know that the heat of this moment will pass and at some point I’ll be left with my tools once again and say, ‘Well, that was fun. Now let’s get back to this Nakashima dining table.’”
Annapurna, Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. 90069. Opens April 20. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. (also Wed 8 pm on 5/9, 5/22 and 5/29) Through June 9. Tickets: $25-30. www.odysseytheatre.com.
Despite being a two-time Emmy Award winner, Megan Mullally is taking traditional routes to promote her new band, Nancy and Beth. One time, Mullally and her band mate — actress Stephanie Hunt (Friday Night Lights), who had her ukulele in tow — handed out flyers on a street corner in a part of West Hollywood nicknamed “Gay Town” to draw an audience for a show.
“I love the sort of grassroots feel of it,” Mullally says. “We have to work from the ground up like anyone else. And nobody gives a shit — it’s actually a point against me that I’m an actress who was on a popular sitcom. We have to work against that to establish ourselves as a legitimate band that has its own appeal besides my acting career.”
The duo discovered their musical chemistry on the set of the indie movieSomebody Up There Likes Me, and since then they’ve been doing shows in Los Angeles and a handful of other cities. Although their repertoire mostly consists of choreographed covers of up-tempo songs from the 1930s through the ’50s, the duo recently garnered Internet notoriety for covering a more contemporary song — Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick,” a crass interrogation of a partner suspected of infidelity.
Mullally performs solo at NOCCA Saturday and the format includes an informal onstage interview. She says her setlist for the NOCCA show consists of Broadway songs, standards and “songs that no one’s heard yet, or sort of funny, dirty blues songs.”
Ever since her Emmy-winning role as the acerbic Karen Walker in the NBC series Will & Grace, Mullally has been seen in everything from a ubiquitous “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercial to the cult favorite, but short-lived, Starz series Party Down. She’s on Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital and has had recurring roles on 30 Rock, Happy Endings and Parks and Recreation, where she plays the ex-wife of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). The characters shared a memorable sex scene at a restaurant that may have been aided by their real-life chemistry — Offerman and Mullally are married.
The couple collaborates frequently. Besides Parks and Recreation, they’ve been in movies together (Offerman co-produced Somebody Up There Likes Me), Nancy and Beth opens for Offerman’s touring American Ham show, and they’re currently rehearsing for a production of the two-person play Annapurna, to be staged in Los Angeles.
“Nick and I are so fortunate to have, first of all the relationship we have, which I think is an unusually comfy and fun and good one, and to be able to work together so much,” she says. “Some people don’t like working together, but we love it. We met doing a play back in 2000, so we’ve kind of always worked together.”
Although she’s done a lot of things since, she is still mostly recognized from her breakout Will & Grace role. She says she was particularly popular in Australia, where she did a similar show to the Broadway at NOCCA concert with host Seth Rudetsky.
“I was like Madonna in Australia. They f-cking love Will & Grace and they love the character of Karen. I think that’s great. It’s fantastic. It’s completely fair — that’s the main thing I’ve done that millions and millions people watched when millions and millions of people watched network television, which they don’t anymore. And it’s still on in syndication,” she says. “I’m thankful for it. It’s opened so many doors for me for the rest of my career.”
Mullally also has appeared in Broadway musicals and in plays in Los Angeles and in Chicago. Before Will & Grace, she played Marty in the 1994 revival of Grease, and she appeared in the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opposite Matthew Broderick. Her most recent Broadway role was in the 2007 musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein as Elizabeth, Madeline Kahn’s role.
Growing up, Mullally was interested in all types of performance.
“I sort of sprang from the womb in a top hat and tap shoes and a little cane ready to sing and dance for the people,” she says.
Recently, Mullally sold a half-hour scripted comedy series to IFC, she just wrapped season five of Children’s Hospital and did another episode of Happy Endings. She’s preparing for Annapurna, which opens April 20, and will continue touring with Nancy and Beth — the duo has a spot in the upcoming Sasquatch! music festival in Washington.
“But the main thing I’m excited about is Nick and I have a nice vacation coming up. We haven’t had one in a long time,” she says.
The couple is considering going to Australia.
“The water there is so beautiful … and (Australians) are nice people. They’re not at war so everyone’s in a good mood.”