Special Edition: Dynamic Duos
We revisit some of our favorite conversations with creative collaborators: Broadway Star Alan Cumming and NPR journalist Ari Shapiro, actors Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, and Actors Paula Plum and Richard Snee.
>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen.
Coming up onOpen Studio, life is a cabaret for cheeky chums
Ari Shapiro and Alan Cumming.
>> There are surprises of seeing each of us
slightly out of our element.
And you get the kinds of conversations that you might
hope to hear from a deep, thoughtful
public radio program and the kinds of song and dance numbers
that you might expect from an Alan Cumming show.
>> BOWEN: Plus,Love Story's silver screen stars
Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw bring their chemistry
to the stage.
>> You've lived a full and interesting life.
You have been down all these paths.
What did I do wrong? Who did I miss?
>> BOWEN: And actress Paula Plum and Richard Snee
are married to their work and to each other.
>> I know many married couples in the business
who feel very competitive with their partner,
and there's none of that here.
>> BOWEN: It's a triple threat of terrific twosomes
now onOpen Studio.
Welcome to a special edition ofOpen Studio,
where we double down on dynamic duos,
revisiting some of our favorite conversations
with creative collaborators.
First up, an unlikely duo turns out to be a dynamic one.
Broadway star Alan Cumming and NPR journalist Ari Shapiro
light up the stage by letting it all down
in theirConsidered Cabaret.
I caught up with the twosome earlier this year
when they brought their performance to Symphony Hall.
>> BOWEN: Alan Cumming, Ari Shapiro,
thank you so much for being with us.
>> It's a pleasure to be here.
Thanks for having us. >> Yeah, nice to see you.
>> BOWEN: Nice to see you, too.
Although, is it because I-- how many times
have I interviewed you and you've never asked me
to perform with you?
Not that I have any artistic talent whatsoever,
but I understand that's how this started.
>> Yes, that's exactly why I've not asked you.
>> BOWEN: (laughs)
>> And that's exactly why I asked Ari Shapiro.
>> Because he sings like... a canary.
>> BOWEN: Oh.
>> Aw, I thought you were going to say
sings like a butterfly or something.
I've actually never interviewed Alan for NPR.
I've interviewed you a number of times,
but it was always live events on stage.
I interviewed you for your book,
and I interviewed you for... >> Yeah.
>> ...the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
>> Yeah. >> You have yet to be on
All Things Considered with me.
>> I know, what's wrong with that,
what's happened to that?
But also that's why, I mean,
that's doing those live things.
There were sort of like almost, you know,
evening events that are, sort of, you know,
kind of cabaret-ish because it's two people chatting
and, and I liked-- what I really loved about
doing those things with Ari, we were friends before that,
but I loved the fact that he didn't, you know,
it wasn't, there weren't sort of fluff pieces.
You sort of challenge me on things, and...
and I felt that I could disagree with him,
or we had a laugh, like a real laugh.
so, it was... >> It was fun,
because you never knew what was going to happen.
>> And I think our show has that quality too.
>> Yeah, we should stop talking and let Jared ask a question.
>> BOWEN: Well, no, now I'm understanding
how this all came to fruition.
The chemistry is clear.
So let's ask, how did it come together,
and what's the show that you're presenting
as you realize that you have this chemistry?
>> Well, it was after the...
this thing at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.,
that we did together, and I said to Ari,
"You know, we should do a show.
We've got a really good chemistry and a good banter."
And I'd sung with Ari already at Joe's Pub,
when he did a show at Joe's Pub in New York City.
And I said that to him and he was like,
"Oh, you know, don't,
don't, um..." What did you say?
"Don't tease me."
>> I said "Don't joke about that
because I will absolutely take you up on it."
>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> And you said,
"I don't joke about those sorts of things.
And then we went out bar-hopping
and started brainstorming songs that we might do in our show.
It was show tunes night
at a D.C. gay bar called JR's... >> That's right.
>> And Alan stood on the interior balcony
and flung napkins down on the crowd
during "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina,
my extraordinary Evita." >> It was such fun.
And then the next day
I sort of called Ari up, like sort of,
"I still respect you in the morning,
like I still mean it."
>> BOWEN: (laughs)
>> And then we started planning it.
>> But I think part of the fun of it
is that we are such an odd couple
and that we're a pair that you wouldn't expect
to see together.
And yet, as the evening unfolds, it starts to make sense.
And there are surprises of seeing each of us
slightly out of our element.
And you get the kinds of conversations
that you might hope to hear
from a deep, thoughtful public radio program
and the kinds of song and dance numbers
that you might expect from an Alan Cumming show.
And somehow, in spite of the differences,
it all comes together
in a new and surprising way. >> Yes.
>> BOWEN: For people who are surprised,
what is the role that, that song has had in your life,
that this is what you go to do when
you're not doing the day job?
>> Well, for many years, I have performed with
a band called Pink Martini.
and that has sort of organically evolved into
doing these cabaret-style shows,
which are a lot more loose, a little more theatrical.
And now with Alan,
this incredibly collaborative experience
that just exercises a very different set of muscles
from the daily news agenda.
>> BOWEN: What's kept you from,
from leaping out of your journalism role
and NPR and just doing this full-time?
>> Well, if I can do both, why wouldn't I?
I mean, it's kind of wonderful
to be able to have one kind of connection
through the stories that I tell on the radio
and the connections that I make with listeners through this
very intimate medium where I'm, by the way,
right now speaking to you from the room where
I've been hosting All Things Considered
for the last 18 months.
>> BOWEN: Well, how is it to perform
now in the pandemic
and this strange world where you obviously know
that people are desperate to be in the theater space?
What kind of energy are you finding?
>> People are very eager and excited to...
to see people perform.
I think it's-- it's lovely.
I mean, we've done a few shows and now this,
we're going back out on the road again
and I'm really looking forward to that.
It is a renewed vigor
and I think also people are, this is sort of a...
I don't know, I think people are
more kind, just in general.
>> Yeah, I think those of us
who love the performing arts
appreciate how special and rare it is
to be in a room with people experiencing something
that will only ever happen in quite that way once.
>> Yeah, yeah. >> BOWEN: In that vein,
I wonder where cabaret comes into this,
because we've all had the,
the existential exploration, right?
And I think there are a lot of our formal lives
that we've kind of let go.
We're working from home,
we realize the things that are important,
which are... are more connections
Have you thought about this show
in that regard, too?
That this is just... there is that connection.
There's a more-- there's the intimacy.
>> Yeah, I think it's too--
I think the form of cabaret itself
has always, to me, seemed really vital.
And really, you know, one of those things,
you can do it relatively easily.
And it also serves a really great purpose
in being able-- you can, you can talk about anything.
You can do anything.
That's what's so-- I love about it.
You can, you know, like in this show,
we're laughing like drains one minute,
then we're being very tender and emotional the next,
and talking about really important personal things.
And I think that sort of, you know,
vulnerability and intimacy that cabaret has.
And then this show has,
I think people are much more ready for it.
>> Did you say laughing like drains?
Is that an expression? >> Do you...
Don't you say laughing like a drain?
>> No, I've never heard that.
Is that Scottish? >> Oh, there's another...
there's another American thing
that I just learned. (laughter)
>> This is what Alan means about
my being unafraid to call him out.
>> BOWEN: Yeah, well, what does that mean?
Let's continue to call you out.
>> Laugh like a drain,
I always imagine,
'cause a drain goes "rah-rah-rah-rah."
>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> That's a first for me.
>> I think it's a great saying.
>> BOWEN: Well, and Alan,
let me ask you-- to depart for just a moment,
you have a book coming out calledBaggage,
and to go back to perceptions that people might have.
They think, "Well, he's talked about issues.
"He is very successful.
"He's won all the trophies.
He's got it down."
But your book is called Baggage.
What are you addressing here this time?
>> In one way, it's a reaction to
the reaction of my last memoir, Not My Father's Son,
which is very much, I felt that people were saying,
"Oh, isn't it great?
"Alan has overcome his past, past trauma and childhood abuse
and he's, you know, he's triumphed and conquered."
And I really wanted to say in this book, "No, nobody"...
well, first of all, everyone has trauma,
everyone has baggage, you know?
So... in various degrees.
But you never triumph over it.
You never win, you never, you just manage it
and you learn to live with it,
and you, and you-- denying its existence
is the way to madness, I think.
So, in a way, I wanted to address that
and also show in this memoir that goes from between--
it's been between two marriages,
my first marriage ending
and my second marriage beginning.
But, you know, I have,
I've made a lot of mistakes in my life.
I have tumbled through, but I, you know,
I've learned a lot of lessons.
And so it's about me trying to say
it's okay to make mistakes.
>> BOWEN: Well, finally, let me just ask Ari,
as you continue on this path with this show,
how much how much has your friendship expanded
in terms of how much you might learn about one another?
>> Oh, Alan and I had a road trip in July
from Maine to Chicago to North Carolina,
and that was a bonding experience I will never forget,
which ended with all of us getting
breakthrough COVID cases, even though we were
>> Yes, it was an incredible trip.
And it was also incredible to be in North Carolina,
and to be told all four of us in the van had COVID
and we were in a mansion.
They put us in a mansion
with all this booze and all this food
with COVID, laughing,
laughing like drains-- like drains.
>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> Laughing like drains.
It was one of the best nights of the pandemic.
>> BOWEN: Well, Alan Cumming, Ari Shapiro, thank you so much.
Can't wait to see the show.
>> Thank you. >> Bye.
>> BOWEN: When it comes to actors Ryan O'Neal
and Ali MacGraw, all love needs is them.
The two played star-crossed lovers in the 1970s hit film
45 years later, they reunited in the playLove Letters.
I caught up with the screen and stage couple
when they brought their performance
to the Boch Center's Shubert Theatre.
>> You and your parents, let me know when you decide to grow up.
>> How about the Harvard game, November 16?
>> Do you plan to grow up at the Harvard game?
>> BOWEN: Here they are, together again.
Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal rewriting their love story
in love letters.
So it has been 45 years.
>> BOWEN: Did you have to work at it to get this chemistry,
or has it always been there between you two,
as it appears to be always?
>> It's always there, it's always there, and sometimes...
>> We're always acting.
>> Oh, is that what I'm doing?
>> BOWEN: Yes, the "it" couple still has it,
starring in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters as two friends
getting down to the rawest form of friendship
in 50 years of letter writing.
>> She said I was a diamond in the rough.
I'll write as soon as I'm smoother.
>> Dear diamond, you too?
I give up.
Why do they keep pushing us together
and then pulling us apart?
>> We hadn't seen each other in nearly a year.
The director said, "I'd like you to... let's do it,
but face each other rather than sitting side by side."
And an hour and a half later, he said, "Fine, this is fine.
Let's go, let's do it."
>> I see and feel parallels in my life.
The specifics aren't important, it's just that if you've lived
a full and interesting life, you have been down
all these paths: what did I do wrong, who did I miss?
>> It was just likeLove Story all over again.
>> BOWEN:Love Story was just that,
a simply told tale of two young college students,
Jenny and Oliver, who meet at Harvard
and have a romance for the ages.
Released in 1970, it was an international phenomenon.
How vividly do you remember that shoot?
>> Perfectly. >> Yeah.
We would literally get out of the station wagon
in our own clothes we'd sneakily put on in the back seat and,
bingo, it's snowing, or it's spring.
Or it's summer-- it was just amazing.
>> We also thought, are all movies like this?
Will they all be fun like this?
And, what a great craft.
It turned out that's not the case. >> Right.
>>Love Story is the most important experience
I ever had in a movie.
>> BOWEN: I understand that you tested with a lot
of actors before...
>> Good ones, really good ones, famous ones.
But when Ryan came in... (snaps fingers)
We did the test, and it was just obvious.
It was obvious to the people watching it, but I thought,
"God, I hope that's the one."
>> I liked the kiss, I remember when we kissed.
>> It was good, a really good kiss.
And I thought, mmm.
>> Is this possible?
>> This could be three months, mmm!
>> I'd been used to kissing Mia Farrow.
>> Well, that is a distinguished list.
>> With Frank watching.
>> Is that true, was he? >> Had to be very careful.
>> Oh, my God.
>> BOWEN: Still friends who say they see each other
every couple of years, sometimes more,
the pair returned to Harvard this week for the first time
since making the film.
They arrived in a convertible
similar to their Love Story ride.
How instantly did your lives change once the film came out?
>> The next day.
>> You mean, our egos?
Mine was out of control.
>> No, it wasn't.
It changed immediately.
>> BOWEN: They also inadvertently launched
a revolution in couples therapy.
>> Love means never having to say you're sorry.
>> I had a take on it.
I just went with that, you know, that if you have
a close relationship with somebody,
they know you're sorry, you don't have to tell them.
>> I sat there wallowing in the pathos of the moment
and then years later, saying, "Wait, what was that?"
'Cause it's not true.
You got to do more than say you're sorry.
You got to change, right? >> It's true.
>> BOWEN: Of course,Love Story was also a sad story,
ending with Jenny's death.
>> I had an experience at that moment that I'll never forget.
I went to makeup for this tragic day of dying in a hospital bed,
thinking, "Well, this is going to take hours, turning me gray."
And the girl said, "Oh, you're perfect, just go to work."
>> You look quite ill. >> You look terrible!
>> I had fallen for her, and I knew that once she dies,
I wondered if I'd ever see her again.
>> And the answer is yes. See? >> Well...
>> BOWEN: In person maybe, but never on screen.
Do you ever go back and watch the film?
>> I don't.
I mean, it's not that I wouldn't,
it plays on television all the time where I live in New Mexico.
I don't watch any of my movies.
>> It was a long time ago.
I would just stare at it and say, "He's so young!"
>> Oh, please, please!
>> He's about 14.
>> BOWEN: On stage, though, it still is a love story.
>> I don't look at her, but I hear Jenny.
Her voice has not altered at all in all these years.
It's a young woman, and there she is, I want to look.
>> BOWEN: Actors Paula Plum and Richard Snee
don't bring their work home;
instead, they bring home to work.
In 2019, we caught up with the real-life married couple
about stepping into the fictional romance
in the production of Barefoot in the Park,
which kicked off Gloucester Stage 40th season.
Paula Plum, Richard Snee, thank you so much for joining us.
The real-life married couple, almost 40 years.
Playing a couple finding each other atBare...
Barefoot in the Park.
We'll talk about your lives in just a moment.
And people say that actors can't be married,
but we're going to root around there.
But first... >> They're right.
(all laugh) >> BOWEN: Nice!
But first,Barefoot in the Park.
I mean, give me a sense of how you see this play
about these two couples at different stages in their life,
and the young couple is having trouble finding marriage.
>> We were married for three or four years a while ago,
so that's, that's where the other couple, Joe and McCaela,
are in their particular, real-life marriage.
And then this is...
They're six days married when it starts.
So we go back a ways, to when we were six days married.
But they're... they're finding out things.
You know, they just... the honeymoon was great.
It was a honeymoon, and now it's...
>> Six days at the Plaza in New York.
>> Right. >> What could go wrong?
>> And now it's...
So they're having their conflict,
and Paula's playing the mother of the bride.
>> The neurotic mother of the bride, who needs a life.
And so McCaela fixes me up
with the exotic Mr. Velasco, who lives upstairs.
>> I know a very unusual place-- best food in New York.
But I'm somewhat hesitant to suggest.
>> Oh, please! What do you say, Mother?
>> Oh, you know me-- one of the fellows.
>> Well, there you are.
We place the evening in your hands.
>> A delightful proposition.
For dinner, we go to The Four Winds!
>> Oh, the Chinese restaurant on 53rd Street.
>> No, the Albanian restaurant on Staten Island.
>> Staten Island?
>> Oh, it sounds wild, doesn't it, Mother?
>> Yes, wild.
>> Oh, I love it already!
>> BOWEN: This is a Neil Simon comedy, of course,
and I think we're paying even more attention to him
given his passing last year. >> Yeah.
>> BOWEN: He created these characters
that we can all identify with.
I mean, he created great comedy.
But what is it about his characters
that we can see ourselves in them?
>> Well, comically, he manages to compress so much
into a very short period of time.
So McCaela's character is the young bride
who wants to... everything to go well.
And having just been married six days now,
the crisis rests on,
will they survive in this apartment happily?
And I think Neil Simon
just knows how to create that pressure,
which is what is sort of the essence of comedy.
>> BOWEN: And usually in the city, too.
I mean, so many of his works have taken place in the city,
which I think adds this other element to these relationships,
because you have the grind happening outside.
>> There's sort of a repeating joke about, you know,
climbing up five flights of stairs.
And... in lesser hands, it might be, get old.
But it's, everybody comes in and has their own experience
of climbing up the five flights.
>> I had to park the car six blocks away.
Then it started to rain, so I ran the last two blocks.
Then my heel got caught in the subway grating,
so I pulled my foot out and stepped in a puddle.
Then a cab went by and splashed my stockings.
If the hardware store downstairs was open,
I was going to buy a knife and kill myself.
>> BOWEN: I was also reading how his foundation in comedy
came from watching Chaplin as a kid.
And there's so much slapstick...
Often, there's so much slapstick in his work, you know...
You sort of, especially, you think ofThe Odd Couple.
I know you're a master at slapstick,
as I've seen you on the stage.
How do you find that when you're working a piece?
>> Well, he gives you a lot of stuff.
I mean, there's a whole sequence where...
They're all going out to dinner, unbeknownst to Ethel.
Ethel's being set up with Velasco.
Not to give too much away, but...
Velasco is supposed to bring wine,
but because his credit has stopped, he can't get wine,
so he makes this dish called knichi.
And there's a whole thing about the knichi,
and the history of knichi, and how you eat it.
And then people are trying to eat it.
>> Like this.
(yelps) >> Oh!
>> Ooh, ooh.
>> BOWEN: How much work is it to do physical comedy like that,
to figure out what's funny about how you pop into your mouth?
>> Well, that's the thing.
You have to have an audience.
I mean, we've been laughing at each other for two weeks,
and we're really tired of it. (all laugh)
>> BOWEN: But that doesn't...
If you're laughing at each other,
you don't know, necessarily, whether it's going to work?
>> No, because it's...
(sighs): The most frustrating thing about working on a comedy
is, you think you're hilarious.
And then, the audience either proves you right or wrong.
But the audience will laugh at things
that you didn't even think were funny.
>> BOWEN: All right, let's talk about you two now.
And first of all, I mean, how does it work?
Because... what's your secret?
I opened this by saying that most people say
that two actors cannot be married.
>> Well, I wasn't an actor when we got married.
So maybe that's the reason.
>> I directed him in his first play in 1985.
And all of my girlfriends at the time...
He had a regular job at City Hall.
And they said, "Paula, what are you doing?
"Your husband has a job.
You're turning him into an actor," you know?
And... but it... you know,
I've directed Richard in seven shows.
We've done 12 on stage together. >> Actually 14.
>> Yeah, we've forgot a couple when we were totaling it up.
>> We've done 14 together?
And so it makes 21.
>> So we've done 21 shows together.
>> Over, over 35 years, so we, we pace it.
>> BOWEN: And how are you together on stage?
I mean, you can't possibly forget
that you're married to one another,
and you have this... near 40-year history.
So how do you work with that to inhabit different characters?
>> I don't know.
It's so funny... >> Doesn't even occur to me.
>> When I come in as, as Velasco,
and I'm meeting her...
Velasco had invited her daughter to a cocktail party,
and she had spent the night talking about her mother.
>> That must have been a dull party.
>> Not in the least. (laughter)
>> I mean, if she spent the entire evening talking about me,
that must have been dull, not the party.
>> It's like, I know it's Paula, but it's not...
I'm Velasco and she's Mrs. Banks,
and I'm just so delighted to see her.
And it's not... it's not hard to be delighted to see Paula Plum.
So we just transfer that over.
>> But it's weird-- I don't think of you as Richard.
No, seriously, it's a weird thing.
>> I'm so transformative.
>> Actors really get used to completely believing
in their reality at the moment.
And I think that just is what translates onstage
with, with us.
>> BOWEN: And you've been onstage so many times.
When do you feel it works the best?
I mean, how do you know it's working the best
in your relationship?
>> I have a really hard time being onstage with Richard.
>> (laughs) >> True confession.
In comedies, because he's so funny, I...
I'm offstage when he's onstage,
and they must be so sick of hearing,
"Oh, his wife's laughing at him again."
Do you know? Because... >> They are.
>> They are-- they said something?
>> It just, you know...
>> No, but I just... this... these characters
that Richard is playing this time
are just... Oh, my God.
Anyway, but I've managed to keep it together,
and will through the run, I promise.
No, one of the great things about Paula is,
she's one of the only people I know who, stone-cold sober,
can literally fall down laughing.
>> BOWEN: How is it to watch one or the other
have a romantic scene with another actor?
>> It's hard, honestly.
I actually taught a workshop called Handling the Hot Moments,
which is about negotiating intimacy onstage,
way before the intimacy coaching came into being.
And it really... because you do believe
what you're doing with the other person,
you start believing that you're really in love with them.
>> BOWEN: Oof. >> And that's dangerous.
And you have to know yourself enough
to know that this isn't real.
>> We had... we didAntony and Cleopatra
a few years ago.
And Paula was Cleopatra-- I was not Antony.
Our friend Jim Andreassi was.
But I was Enobarbus,
and Enobarbus kills himself.
Spoiler. >> (laughing)
>> I think I know what you're going to say.
>> Mark Antony and Cleopatra-- Jim and Paula--
were writhing with each other.
>> BOWEN: I think this is why I'm asking the question,
because I remember that, actually.
>> Yeah, and so I had to step over my wife and Jim,
you know, writhing on the floor,
to go over stage right and kill myself.
>> "Excuse me, I'm not bothering you, am I?
"I'm just about to make my final exit.
"I'm shuffling off this mortal coil.
>> It's hard. >> Yeah.
>> It's very difficult, and it has broken up relationships.
>> BOWEN: Really?
>> Oh, historically, yeah, I mean, that happens all the time.
I mean, yeah.
>> BOWEN: Oof. (all laugh)
>> But it's because you do... it's the power
of your own belief in what you're doing.
>> BOWEN: Do you... Have you ever tried something
likeWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I mean, how would that work, to do a dramatic role
where you have to tear into each other, tear each other apart?
>> Well, that's an interesting story, we...
Paula actually did Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
with Steve Barkhimer.
We did an interview a long time ago,
and someone said, "What would you like to do?"
This was probably at least 20 years ago.
And we said, "Oh, we'd love to do," you know,
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
David Wheeler... >> David Wheeler.
>> ...saw the interview, and called us and said,
"Why don't we do it in Gloucester?"
And he wanted to pitch it.
And then Paula thought, "I can't do that play with you."
>> I couldn't.
>> I said, "You're probably right."
>> I couldn't do it.
I didn't want to say those words
or go into that relationship with my own husband.
So that was the end of it.
>> BOWEN: Yeah. >> Yeah.
It's too tough.
Some things are too tough, you know?
And some plays are too tough.
I mean, I did a Neil Simon play, Lost in Yonkers, that...
This woman is mildly autistic or whatever.
I don't know if you know the character of Bella
inLost in Yonkers.
And it really profoundly affected me for a long time
after the show.
Some things really,
you have to watch out for your own psyche.
>> BOWEN: Well, Paula Plum, Richard Snee,
thank you so much for joining us.
Such a pleasure to have you here,
and always to see you. >> It was really fun.
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Remember, you can always catch my latest art news and reviews
on the radio,
every Thursday onMorning Edition
and regularly with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan
onBoston Public Radio.
That's all on 89.7, Boston's local NPR.
I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.
As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio
and you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
And I'm @thejaredbowen.
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Cape Ann & Monhegan Island Vistas, Eben Haines, and moreNovember 19, 2021
Punto Urban Art Museum, Artist Katherine Bradford, and moreNovember 12, 2021