Comedy veterans are ready to bring a brand new play to Laguna Playhouse
By Libby Nicolay
For multi-hyphenate Hollywood veteran Martin Bergman and his wife, comedian Rita Rudner, huddling around a computer and cranking out a new play together has been the bread and butter of their relationship. “That’s sort of what we did when we first started dating,” Bergman remembers. “Most couples say, ‘Let’s go for a romantic weekend.’ We said, ‘Let’s rent a typewriter,’ and we started trying to write a film together.” Even now, after 35 years of marriage, the couple is still going. Bergman and Rudner are excited to be premiering their latest comedy, STAGED, to the Laguna Playhouse, starring Rudner and directed by Bergman.
Originally from England, Martin Bergman has spent his decades-long career in the American entertainment industry creating and producing projects in theatre, film, and TV, most notably alongside Rita. Beyond producing her stand-up tours and shows, Bergman has directed Rita in dozens of projects and, together, they’ve co-written plays and screenplays that have been either produced or sold.
Even still, the couple has found a way to spark creativity in one another and collaborate well together, especially in a project like this one, where Bergman is directing his wife. “You have to treat your wife as a professional actress,” he explains. “I’m impatient, and if I’m going to be impatient with anyone, I can’t be impatient with Rita.” This production will also feature a cast of four others, some of whom the couple has known and created with before, including comedian Mike McShane.
For STAGED, this script first began as a screenplay. “It was originally a movie script that we did maybe 20 years ago,” Berman recalls. “So we’ve always remembered it as a premise that we liked, which was an acting dynasty couple. We thought it would be fun to do as a play, so we revisited the premise and changed it entirely.” The script underwent rewrite after rewrite over the years in anticipation of its eventual world premiere this month in Laguna, for which Bergman and Rudner are equally nervous and excited.
The play is a backstage rom-com “with more com than rom”, similar to something like Noises Off, where the audience gets a taste of the off-stage antics that might go on behind the curtain. But instead of the typical farcical style, full of physical, over-the-top comedy, this one will feature the hilarious sharp wit and stand-up talents that Rita Rudner is known for. The play features a toxic-yet-iconic Hollywood couple who are forced to work together once again. The story begs the question, can time salvage a toxic relationship? Can people grow and change, or are our personalities locked in at an early age?
The concept becomes especially timely following the televised divorce suit between former Hollywood couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Bergman was inspired to revisit the premise after the recently publicized trial, wondering what would happen if in 20 years, Heard and Depp had to work together again, say, if they needed the money. “I’m always intrigued [by] what time can do to a relationship,” Bergman explains. “With social media, suddenly ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends pop up and go ‘Hello’, and you tend to forget, ‘Oh I remember, I nearly wanted to murder you,’” Bergman quips. “Instead you remember, ‘Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun together when we were young.’” Who knows what enough time and space will do for Depp and his former sweetheart.
Bergman and Rudner have partnered with Laguna Playhouse before - most notably with their premiere of Two’s A Crowd back in 2018 - but their partnership first began in an unlikely way. He recalls simply passing by the theatre one day. “I think we just walked in a introduced ourselves and said, ‘Hello, would you like to play with us?’” That encounter turned into a years-long continued collaboration that has led to Bergman and Rudner moving to the area after living in Las Vegas for many years for Rita’s stand-up shows.
Reluctant to give away too many details, Bergman is eager for audiences to experience this new tale and says it will be perfect for anyone in need of a good laugh. Of course, with Rudner’s comedy prowess in the leading role, hilarity is sure to ensue. Bergman simply hopes the play will leave its goers thoroughly entertained. “I hope we’ll put them in a good mood and they’ll laugh,” he puts it plainly. “Because that’s what we do.”
Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County.
“Staged” Laguna Playhouse 606 Laguna Canyon Road Laguna Beach, CA 92651 January 25 - February 12, 2023 (949) 497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com