If Karen Black weren’t married to her husband, Stephen, for 27 years and David Proval weren’t married to his wife, Cheryl, for 32 years, you’d swear the two veteran actors were matrimonially linked.
They have an easy rapport. When the two, friends for 25 years, are in conversation, they mesh like a hand and glove. When Black finishes a thought, she looks at Proval and asks, “what do you think?”Â His response, “uh, you’re right. And let me add”¦.”
It appears that they have a mutual admiration society. “You really have to see him on stage,” Black says. “He’s incredible on stage. He really is.”
Proval claims to have been “a fan of Karen Black’s” since the beginning of her career. “She’s a really good actress.”
They say that their ease with each other assists them as they rehearse their portrayals of Cookie and Marvin Green, the married couple at the center of the new comedy Moses Supposes, set to open Oct. 15 at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles.
Directed by Zephyr owner Lee Sankowich (a former artistic director of the Marin Theatre Company) and written by Ellen Melaver, Moses Supposes also features Elijah Kranski and Sarah Sankowich.
The play’s title is taken from the tongue-in-cheek novelty song that Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly sang in the musical Singin’ in the Rain:
Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses,
As Moses supposes his toeses to be!
Getting To Know Them
It’s just moments after a rehearsal. Having exited the stage, Black and Proval sit across from each other at a small table in the lobby of the Zephyr. Black has her feet up in a chair with her arms around her knees. Proval sits up in his chair for emphasis. They wax comically and nostalgically about their friendship, their careers, their previous productions together (Irene In Time, Hollywood Dreams and Just 45 Minutes From Broadway) and Moses Supposes, their fourth show together.
Black, who was originally from Park Ridge, Ill., is still wearing a costume from the production — two-piece pajamas accented by blue, purple and green owls, with brown, white and beige socks. It’s a look!
Proval, who hails from Brooklyn, has changed out of his performance wardrobe. He’s looking comfortable in his jeans and pink and white striped shirt.Â But, under those jeans, he’s probably wearing his lucky underwear.
“From the moment I find out I’ve got the part, I wear the same shorts throughout the run of a show,” says Proval, laughing so hard he’s turning red while his eyes tear up.Â “I’ve never told anyone that before. Never. First, I can’t believe I just told you that. And, yes, I wash them.”
He’s now in hysterics ““ laughing about his revelation of his very personal ritual. The look on his face is somewhere between full-blown embarrassment and relief for having finally spilled the beans.
“Really?” asks Black, letting go with a light laugh. “I didn’t know that.”
According to Black, being longtime friends isn’t a prerequisite for delivering authenticity to their performances, but it does help.
“Being actual friends, that’s a little more than is necessary,” says Black. “You can do comedy without being friends.Â What’s interesting in this is we have a real connection – and that shows. When we get pissed off on stage, we’re really pissed off. We’re acting like we’re really married.”
“We both have slightly similar styles of acting,” she continues. “We like not really knowing what’s going to happen next. I don’t know and he doesn’t know. We both like that. It’s wonderful. We’re cozy and more surprising as a couple onstage. Would you put it that way, David?”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” he says shaking his head in agreement. “I like not knowing.”
It’s Not Easy Being Green
In Moses Supposes, the Greens’ adult children, Cece and Raymond, return to the fold to throw their parents a 35th wedding anniversary party. But the Greens soon discover that they may not know each other as well as they thought they did.
Proval is doing the show because it’s about something close to his heart — family.
“The traditional family structure as I knew it most of my life seemed to, in many ways, redesign itself,” says Proval, a father of three. “Families now live in different parts of the country. I can relate to this play because I have a similar situation in regards to my kids living away from home. My youngest just graduated from the University of Oregon and is now back home. The other two went away to college as well.Â When they come home, they bring home their own perspectives.Â What I was attracted to was that this family gets together and has to rediscover how to be a family again. That was interesting to me.”
Proval says he understands Marvin. “I know something about his fears and his insecurities. I know what he’s frightened of, how he pays for his fear. That helps me in developing and playing him.Â I know how much Cookie means in his life.”
Upon reading Moses Supposes, Black — a mother of two — took an immediate liking to Cookie. “I fell in love with her. I could do this character for years.Â If I was going to do TV, I could do this for years.”
Asked to describe her character, Black says, “I’m much better being her than I can be talking about her.”
At first Proval didn’t like the play’s title. “The truth is I thought it was an inappropriate title,” he says. “It’s a Jewish family in the South. I thought it should be called Shalom Ya’ll.Â But, I get now why it’s called Moses Supposes.”
So…why? Proval stays mum. “I can tell you, but it would ruin the surprise for the audience. I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t want to give away the secret.”
“I don’t want to say either,” says Black. “It would be giving too much away.”
Proval remembers the moment he decided to become an actor. “I was in a choir, I was six,” says Proval. “My adopted grandmother ““- a woman who raised me — put me in the choir because she thought it would be a good place to be. She took me to this Lakewood, New Jersey, Jewish old age home to sing.Â I loved it so much, I said I’d never stop doing it. I would sing, My Yiddishe Mama (he begins to sing the song). I’m singing and a woman is crying. After the show she put $20 in my hand. I remember the moment so clearly.”
Black was also six years old when she decided she wanted to become an actress.
“I just think people are born into the arts,” she says. “My sister and I would climb on the baseboard and get up high on this bureau and we would fly through the air and land on the bed. That’s when I said, ‘I want to be an actress’.”
Between them Black, who has been in the business since 1965, and Proval, who began his career in 1966, haveÂ an impressive list of credits.
Asked what she’s proudest of in her career, Black doesn’t mention any of the accolades or awards she acquired. Instead, she talks of people and the effects they’ve had on her life.Â She speaks of memories, not trophies.
A calm spirit whose eyes are intense and seemingly all-knowing, Black could legitimately boast about having been nominated for a supporting actress Oscar and for winning the Golden Globe for her performance in Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson. She won another for her role in The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and was nominated for a third Golden Globe in The Day of the Locust. Her 150-plusÂ films also include Easy Rider; Airport 1975; Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; Nashville and Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot. She launched her stage career in The Playroom, earning a NY Drama Critics Circle Award.
She has written two plays of her own, Mama at Midnight (readings at the Zephyr in LA and La MaMa in New York), and Missouri Waltz (the Blank Theatre in Hollywood, 2007).
Proval doesn’t speak much of his popular role as Richie Aprile on HBO’s The Sopranos.Â But he admits the show kicked his career into another gear.Â He, too, would rather talk about the work and the memories.
He received a rave review from the LA Times in 1974 for playing the title role in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel at LA’s Inner City Cultural Center. He garnered a Drama Desk Award nomination for his Broadway debut in Requiem for a Heavyweight with John Lithgow. He also appeared in The Normal Heart (Long Wharf) and Glengarry Glen Ross (Arena Stage).Â In West Hollywood, he performed Richard Krevolin’s monologue Seltzer-Man at the Tiffany, but unfortunately it opened four days after 9/11/01.Â He has many films to his credit, including Mean Streets, Romeo is Bleeding, Hollywood Dreams, Cinderella Liberty, and The Shawshank Redemption. On television, he has appeared on Picket Fences, The West Wing and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Both Proval and Black have a lot of stories from their long careers.
Black reminisces about a “great evening” playing ping-pong in a New York apartment with Elaine May, John Cassavetes and Max Von Sydow.
She laughs when she remembers shooting Five Easy Pieces. “We were on the road,” says Black. “The sun is going down and there was this big sand hill. Everyone, we all went up the hill and rolled down and got sandy and just played.”
Proval reminisces about a tour with Lithgow that went to Broadway. When the cast got together, someone played the guitar and Lithgow played the banjo ““ and everyone sang. “It was so sweet,” says Proval. “I would put on Tony Bennett and I’d do my Tony Bennett impersonation. Great times.”
The best lesson Black learned in her decades as an actress?
“Every actor should know this,” she says. “People aren’t actually ignoring or rejecting you when they don’t respond. You have to just keep asking the question until you get an answer.Â It happens frequently. You can’t assume someone is rejecting you. Ask until you get an answer.”
“The lesson I’ve learned is really a life lesson,” says Proval. “It’s just to be grateful that I’ve been blessed with work. I’m always deeply in love with acting. It’s a privilege to do the work you love.Â I hear people talk about retirement. I don’t know what that is. There is always King Lear. I can play fathers and grandfathers now.
They speak reverently about theater.Â “When I’m doing theater, it reminds me what I initially fell in love with,” says Proval.Â “It’s about a group of actors becoming a family, struggling together. Make the play work. It’s great camaraderie. I love it as much today as the first time I did it when I was six years old.”
“Theater gives me a reason to live,” says Black. “It’s very important. When you’re creating a good character and you have a good director, that’s a good life.
“Wouldn’t you agree, David?”
Moses Supposes, Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., LA. Opens Oct. 15. Plays Fri-Sat, 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm, through Dec. 4. Tickets: $25. 800-838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/202027 or www.goldstar.com.
***All Moses Supposes production photos by Michael Lamont