November 21, 2018

It’s a funny thing about ‘Married People’

After nearly 30 years of marriage to their respective wives, comedians Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer know a few things about the trials and tribulations of relationships and family life. Some of those experiences have been written into their new play, “Married People — A Comedy,” that opens March 3 at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles.

“It’s a play about acceptance and love,” Schiff said. “And, of course, marriage is always funny.”

The play follows two couples — Henry and Cookie, and Aviva and Jake — who are good friends and who both have sons. Henry and Cookie’s son is gay, and they are having trouble coming to terms with it. Aviva and Jake’s son has forsaken his Jewish heritage, which hurts Aviva, whose maternal and paternal grandparents were victims of the Holocaust. 

Marriage jokes sprinkled throughout the play add lightness to the difficult situations both couples experience. In one scene, when describing his sex life, Henry says, “I’ll tell you how the sex changes. It goes from all night to not tonight to, God forbid, out of sight.”

While the plot of the play isn’t autobiographical — neither Schiff nor Shaffer has a son who is gay — some of the dynamics of marriage are taken from their real lives.

“My marriage material and Mark’s are intermittent throughout the play,” Shaffer said. “But it’s not a jokey play. There is real dialogue. We worked really hard on making this sound real.”

Schiff and Shaffer, who have known each other for 35 years, took seven years to write the play in between other gigs. Shaffer lives in New Jersey and Schiff is in Los Angeles, so they spent hours on the phone hashing it out. The script went through 15 rewrites until they were ready to do readings in New York, L.A. and Chicago before staging it at the Zephyr.

The idea for “Married People — A Comedy” came about through a conversation Schiff had with Jerry Seinfeld. “We talked about plays and he said, ‘You know more about marriage than anybody. You should write a play about it,’ ” said Schiff, who opens for Seinfeld on the road.

This is Schiff’s second produced play. His first, “The Comic,” starred Larry Miller and ran for 10 months in L.A. It went to the Aspen Comedy Festival, and HBO optioned it to make a movie. But Schiff has been writing plays nearly his whole life; he wrote his first one at the age of 12.

“I didn’t even know if I’d seen a play, but I understood the medium,” he said. “I had a very up-and-down relationship with my mother, so the play was about a guy dealing with some woman. It was my way of trying
to figure out what was going on in my

In “Married People — A Comedy,” Schiff once again touches upon what it’s like to maintain a Jewish identity. Though he is observant, his characters are not. By the end of the play, though, the characters reconcile some of their problems.

“Essentially, what happens is the parents themselves had very little Judaism in their lives,” he said. “Their son didn’t have any role models to look after. They are getting more involved now. They are starting to light Shabbos candles. It may be a little late for the kid but not too late for them.”

The play stars Michelle Bernard as Aviva, Kylie Delre as Cookie, Andy Lauer as Jake and Paul Parducci as Henry. Rick Shaw, who produced six seasons of “The Nanny,” is the director.

As for the play’s future, Schiff said he hopes he can take it to Broadway or turn it into a half-hour sitcom. “People who have seen it love these characters,” he said. “They want to know more about them, and that’s a good sign.”

Though many of the issues that longtime couples face are highlighted in the play, Schiff and Shaffer stressed that, overall, it takes a positive look at marriage.

“The play is truly an affirmation for marriage,” Schiff said. “One of the things somebody said is everything he’s seen on marriage is negative. These two couples are never getting divorced. They are in it to win it, as they say on ‘American Idol.’ These couples care about and love each other, but they have big issues and they need to work through them.”

Added Shaffer: “People will walk away thinking we’re all going through the same thing. We all suffer the same problems. When people realize we’re all in the same boat, it makes life a little easier.”

“Married People — A Comedy” will be in previews Feb. 23-25 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. It opens March 3 and runs through April 2.