On the weekend of November 18 through 20, the renovated stage at the Rosendale Theatre will be put to use for one of the purposes that Ann Citron especially had in mind when she stepped down from the position of managing director last year to focus exclusively on bringing live theatre to the space: workshopping a work-in-progress. Audiences will be invited to give feedback on a one-woman play, The Unexpected 3rd, written and performed by Kathryn Grody and directed by Timothy Near. It’s an amazing opportunity for all those who love the magic that happens behind the scenes in the creation of a work for the live stage.
Grody is quite a prestigious “get” for this not-for-profit smalltown theatre, familiar to most as a single-screen community moviehouse. She has had a busy history of film and television roles dating back to 1974, including as one of the three leads in The Lemon Sisters. Onstage, she worked with Joseph Papp and the Public Theater for more than a decade and has several prizes under her belt, including an Obie nomination for Top Girls, an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination for The Marriage of Bette and Boo and another Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance for A Mom’s Life.
The latter work, staged by the Public in 1990, was the first installment of the self-penned trilogy of one-woman shows that she’s rounding out with The Unexpected 3rd. “It was my answer to the question, ‘Are you working now or just having fun?’” she says of the play she wrote about the trials and tribulations of being a new mother. The middle show, Falling Apart…Together, was inspired by a rocky period during her 43-year marriage to Broadway star Mandy Patinkin.
Since the onset of COVID, the ups and downs of the thespian couple’s time-tested relationship made both of them unexpected stars of viral videos on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, shot by their son Gideon as they navigated a prolonged period of isolation in a cabin in Ulster County. Neither wife nor husband is much of a fan of modern digital technology, so they were both surprised when these endearing vignettes of their interactions garnered millions of views. Onscreen together, the two are utterly charming and real: drunk on love one moment and being thoroughly exasperated with each other the next. So popular were these videos that Showtime is considering making a comedy series starring Grody and Patinkin as themselves, to be titled Seasoned; they shot a pilot this past July.
“I was talking to shagbark hickory trees a lot,” says Grody of her time in that upstate cocoon, driving her husband a little nuts and vice versa. But now that the pandemic has waned, she is once again embracing her natural tendency to extroversion and itching to be back on a real stage. “We’re all practicing how to be social creatures again,” she notes. Her emergence manifested in the desire to write a new play that’s all about her this time, instead of “being embroiled with family dynamics.” And she wanted it to treat with the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in her final third of life.
“The idea has been in my mind for awhile,” says Grody, who just turned 76. “I wanted to write about how you’re treated with white hair instead of brown hair. How can you not internalize that? How can you go on to have new adventures and stay a unique being?” She ponders how the Boomer generation spent decades thinking we would never get old, so long as we did yoga and took the right supplements, but now finally are being forced to transcend that state of denial. “I really thought I was ageless, until the pandemic. It has taken a lot out of me,” she says. “It’s a hard thing to live with, to know that you’re finite.”
She began working on her new play with her longtime directing partner Near (also a multiple award-winner, longtime director of San José Rep and coincidentally the sister of singer/songwriter Holly Near) early in 2022. “I just want to examine the possibility of this period of life being exciting. I’m feeling kind of a freedom now – that there are all sorts of new experiences that I can have. I’m grateful that I have a sense of humor, because I never needed it more,” Grody says.
In October Grody and Near completed a two-week play development workshop with the Ground Floor program at Berkeley Rep. “I’ve been mostly working on the text, sharing my thoughts in real time, trying to answer my own questions with the audience,” Grody reports. “We worked from 10 to 6, seven days a week, and did 19 drafts.”
Part of Grody’s motivation in creating The Unexpected 3rd, she admits, was to expand the limited supply of roles for older actresses and contemporary stageworks that address the authentic experience of being an “elder” (a term she much prefers to “senior”), instead of relying on stereotypes. “What views of older people on the stage and in popular culture do we have that are positive?” However, the feedback she got from her peers at Ground Floor indicated that her new work has a more universal appeal than she anticipated. “It was surprising at Berkeley to have these 30-year-olds totally taken with this piece,” she says.
At the Rosendale Theatre, the playwright is hoping to hear from a diverse audience about what already works well and what could be better honed in her work-in-progress. The production will still be minimalist: “We don’t have a budget; we don’t have a scenic designer or a sound designer.” Of course, Grody and Near also wouldn’t mind attracting the interest of some people with deep enough pockets to stage The Unexpected 3rd in New York City in the foreseeable future.
The plan is for Grody to remain the star in a full production, but in a perfect world the role would go on to be acted by others as well: “Maybe this is a living play,” she says. “It’s a radical rumination on the optimism of staying alive.”
The Unexpected 3rd, a work in progress, will be presented live at the Rosendale Theatre on Thursday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, November 19 at 5 p.m. (with a talkback session to follow) and Sunday, November 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for general admission and $22 for Rosendale Theatre Collective members. For reservations and more information, visit www.rosendaletheatre.org.