Comedy, Drama Intermingle in ‘Act 3’

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: Charles Shaughnessy and Rita Rudner star in “Act 3,” in its premiere run at Laguna Playhouse through Jan. 28.
 Charles Shaughnessy and Rita Rudner star in “Act 3,” in its premiere run at Laguna Playhouse through Jan. 28.

A chicly attired couple returns home from a dinner party. He’s ready to turn in, self-satisfied in the thought that he has, once again, mesmerized the female he was seated next to.

She, clad in a glittery mini dress and towering stilettos, with hair and make-up still just so, is seething at having been placed at the opposite end of the table, only able to watch her significant other put on his usual show, the successful writer and silver-tongued wordsmith. The fact that he did not even notice the care she had taken with her appearance is an added dash of bitters.

So begins “Act 3,” a two-act play centered on a middle-aged couple that, although unmarried, has spent 11 years together for better and, as one comes to find out, also for worse.

Written by David Ambrose and Claudia Nellens and directed by Martin Bergman, “Act 3” is drawn from the playwrights own lives, actress Rita Rudner told the opening night audience this past Saturday, Jan. 9, at the show’s U.S. premiere.

Rudner’s otherwise nameless love interest, He, is portrayed by Charles Shaughnessy. Rudner, known as a former dancer, a comedian with a knack for one-liners, and author of several fiction and non-fiction books, inhabits She.

Here however, she comes across as a stage actor with a gift for conveying poignancy as well as self-doubt behind quick-witted repartee.

Getting into the character of a woman whose own sense of accomplishment is being slowly eradicated by the pomposity of her mate presented a challenge to Rudner.

In her personal life, she prefers to look at the brighter side of things. “I think that a lot of people can channel feelings from darker parts of their lives into something they can benefit from,” she said. “You can make something good from something bad. For example, when I found that I could not have children, I adopted the best little girl,” she recalled.

Conversely, Rudner said that she identifies more strongly with the ditzy but upbeat side of her character, the one who likes things pretty and snorkels in the swimming pool. “I like bright and shiny objects on my desk and flowers when I am working,” she said.

Still, she plays the more Machiavellian aspect of her role with memorable aplomb. Not to spoil things here, let’s just say that she devises a brilliant scheme to unveil her mate’s crumbling sense of fidelity and of self while re-inventing herself as the very person he assumed she never could be: a writer, a traveler and a mistress of intrigue who ultimately serves up comeuppance with the skill of a chess master.

One might wonder how Rudner’s portrayal of deceitful self-empowerment sits with Bergman, her husband of nearly three decades, who directs the show. “For us it’s a normal thing to work on projects and write scripts together,” she said.

What’s particularly remarkable here is the smoothness of line and motion between Rudner and Shaughnessy. “We rehearsed for three weeks with interruptions for Christmas and New Year’s. I wanted the action to be as fluid on stage as it is in the script, but it was a challenge since I normally write most of my own material,” she said.

What then draws the woman who comprised the longest-running solo comedy act in the history of Las Vegas repeatedly to Laguna Beach? “We spent our honeymoon at the Ritz Carlton 28 years ago, and I always wanted a beach house. We built one in Dana Point a year and a half ago, and Laguna feels like home since we know everyone here so well,” she said. “It’s slow in Las Vegas right now and I wanted to be here in January, working close to home,” she said.

 

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  1. […] Rita Rudner will emcee. “I need a low ceiling. Standing outside on a lawn and looking at the sky is not conducive to comedy routines,” she lamented with a laugh. “Still, it’s a great way to promote local artists and I’ll be as funny as I can be in an open air circumstance.” Rudner will introduce her daughter Molly Bergman, who at age 14 is an emerging guitarist, singer and songwriter. […]

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