• Bob Puglisi

Marie and Bruce at the Odyssey Theatre-October 2020

Wallace (Wally) Shawn, an actor/playwright, wrote the play Marie and Bruce. Wally Shawn is a character actor who played Diane Keaton’s ex in Woody Allen’s Annie Hal l. He received critical acclaim in My Dinner with Andre, a film that people either loved or hated. Recently, Shawn has had a recurring role as a nerdy professor who befriends Sheldon Cooper in the comedy TV series Young Sheldon.

In the beginning of Shawn’s play, Marie, played by Anne Bronston berates her husband, Bruce, played by Sam Anderson, with an almost unending tirade in which she calls Bruce every foul curse word imaginable. Bronston had a busy TV and film career before and after the play’s run. Anderson already had a healthy acting career when he was cast in the play. The exposure he received furthered his career. Years later, he played an educator who made love to Sally Field in the movie Forrest Gump, thus ensuring the future of her son Forrest’s education. And Sam Anderson was truly a nice guy.

The Odyssey Theatre was one of the most respected theatres at the time in Los Angeles. They had three stages and could have three plays running simultaneously. When I read in the trade paper, Dramalogue, that there was an open audition for Marie and Bruce, I wanted to audition. At the time, I thought I was a pretty hot method-actor studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.

When I got to the audition, the line of actors was daunting. There were about fifteen roles up for grabs. I stuck it out and got to read for several different parts. The play was directed by the theatre’s artistic director, Ron Sossi, an award-winning director who gave up a successful TV executive career to create the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. I only found out about Sossi’s TV career a few years ago when a friend told me she had worked with him at ABC TV.

At the audition, I must have done something right because a few days later I got a callback. It was a pretty intensive second audition. Once again, they had me read several parts with different actors each time. I believe there was a subsequent round of callbacks. To get that far in the audition process was already a big win for me.

For the play, they built an impressive set that had a movable wall some of us had to move and it transposed the stage into a completely different setting.

I got the role of Antoine an argumentative character in several different scenes. In the opening scene, I played opposite Mark Lowenthal who was at least six inches taller than me. We looked like a Mutt and Jeff act. Interestingly, Lowenthal had the same theatrical agent as Jack Nicholson. He would say that his agent only represented Jack Nicholson—and him.

The play opened to a sold out house. One of the nice things about working at The Odyssey was that they had subscribers—ensuring that the theatre had an audience opening night because those folks had already paid for their tickets as subscribers. Despite, Marie’s profane tirade at the beginning of the play, which turned some people off, the play was a huge success and we had full houses for the entire run. We also received great reviews in all the local papers, which also helped.

The opening weekend Wally Shawn flew out from New York to see his play. He was such a sweet guy. He praised and thanked each one of us for being in the play. He went out for drinks with us after the show and we got to sit and talk with him. He was down-to-earth and very sincere.

As the play got closer to the end of the run, Sossi wanted to extend it a few more weeks. One Sunday, we did a matinee to be followed by an evening performance. Sossi took us all out for ice cream. This was followed by a cast meeting back at the theatre where we agreed to extend the play.

The cast was full of interesting actors, both older experienced ones as well as newbies like me. We hung out together a lot after performances. I remember one night we joined some members of the Mother Courage cast playing next door in one of the Odyssey’s three theatres. We all went to a party in a loft in an industrial part of Downtown Los Angeles. Anita joined us. It was during the Punk music era. People who were dancing would jump up and bounce off the walls. It was quite hysterical.

I never worked at the Odyssey again. Many years later, there was an audition with Ron Sossi for an Odyssey play. (They had been evicted from the old space and they had moved a couple of miles away to Sepulveda Boulevard.) I had prepared a monologue for the audition. I tried to do the monologue with some kind of accent. It was so bad Sossi stopped me and had me start over again without the accent. It went so sour that I must have blanked it out of my mind because I don’t even remember what I had chosen for a monologue. That was the last time I saw Ron Sossi. It was also a good example of the ups and downs of being an actor.

During our run, a funny coincidence occurred after one of our performances: Roscoe Lee Browne came backstage after the show to shake our hands and congratulated us on a great performance. Yes, the same Roscoe Lee Brown who years earlier came backstage to talk to the actors in Gate 11. Roscoe must have truly loved theatre.

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