Want to spice up your long-term relationship? Try playing husband and wife on stage.
Larry Cook and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook are celebrated local actors, each with multiple award nominations from the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle, who fell in love and got married 29 years ago. But even though they’ve each appeared in dozens of productions in the past three decades, the two have rarely appeared onstage together. And they never played husband and wife until “Equus,” produced by Cadence earlier this season, in which they portrayed the beleaguered parents of the horse-mutilating lead character.
That production proved a warm-up for “I Do! I Do!” the musical that recently opened on Virginia Rep’s Hanover Tavern stage, where Mr. and Mrs. Cook blast through 19 songs in less than two hours. A recent Times-Dispatch article featured several other local theater couples, but omitted the Cooks, a weird oversight given that they’re appearing in a current show.
Like other couples in similar circumstances, “I Do! I Do!” has been illuminating for Lauren and Larry in many ways. “This is the first time we are truly playing opposite each other,” Lauren says. “After all these years, it’s interesting to just be discovering how we act.”
Though any show with a cast of just two is sure to be exhausting, Larry says the rehearsal process has been one of the easiest he’s experienced. “We’ve really been having a blast,” he says. “Working with someone you trust 150 percent makes everything go more smoothly.”
The play depicts the ups and downs of a 50-year marriage and, while the Cooks haven’t been together quite that long, they say their relationship has been invaluable in creating their characters. “There are times where it feels like we’re just playing ourselves,” Larry says.
Lauren concurs “There’s a fair amount of kissing and touching in the script,” she says, “and we don’t have to work at that. There’s an intimacy we bring so those scenes are very natural.”
Of course, no stage production would be complete without a little conflict. “Oh, there are some wonderful fights,” Larry says. “So that’s fun.”
“It lets us get it all out on stage,” Lauren echoes.
The Cooks are bracing for some long-term couples therapy: “I Do! I Do!” runs until the first weekend of April.
Running: Last chances this week to see “The Little Lion” at Swift Creek Mill, “Saturday, Sunday, Monday” at Virginia Repertory Theatre, and “Bad Jews” at TheatreLab.
On deck: Act fast, because two short-running shows open this coming weekend -- HatTheatre’s “Creating Claire” and Heritage Ensemble’s ungainly titled repertory duo, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide…” / “For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide. …”