Strange that Paul Barrosse and Victoria Zielinski think they need a script just to put on a show. Their compulsive give-and-take yielded a pretty strong hour of improv when I interviewed them. You’ll notice that I have exactly one line in the conversation excerpted below.
But a script has been prepared and rehearsed. It consists of sketches and songs, and the couple are performing it at Prop Thtr as The Vic & Paul Show.
This is something of a homecoming. Zielinski and Barrosse were part of the Practical Theatre Company, which had a string of hit revues here during the 1980s. The troupe was so good it had the honor of being raided by SNL. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a member. Zielinski and Barrosse have spent most the last 20 years raising kids and working as television producers. This is their first stage show in all that time.
Paul Barrosse: We embrace our age. We sing our ages right at the top of the show. How does it go? After two decades in limbo—
Victoria Zielinski: We’re all gathered to see—
PB and VZ: A show by a couple not quite 53.
PB: What we say is, it’s a bit like Nichols and May if Nichols and May were 50-something parents with kids in college.
VZ: The basic premise is that we’ve been inside our home for the last 20 years while we raised our children. We just had to take this brief hiatus to get that done, and now we’re stepping right back where we always felt most comfortable.
PB: We have a sketch where a couple parents—we call them the Adoring Parents, but they’re bad and they’re trying to get their obviously unruly jerk of a kid into nursery school. And then they’re trying to get him into grade school, and then high school. And it goes all the way to its logical extension, which we don’t want to give away. We also do a few things that are over the top. She plays Medea on a talk show.
VZ: She’s coming on to talk about revenge—these situations where a middle-aged man dumps his wife despite terrible sacrifices over the course of a lifetime.
PB: Her book is called Don’t Kill Your Children If You Can Help It: A Celebrity Manual for Survivors of Adultery. And of course, last year, when we wrote it, it was all about—
VZ: Sandra Bullock.
PB: Tiger Woods.
VZ: And Sandra Bullock.
PB: And Sandra Bullock. And now, you know—
VZ: I nudged him at 5 AM two days ago and said, “I really, really, really, really feel sorry for Maria, but thank you! Thank you, Arnold!” It just gave new life to Medea. And then, of course, there’s the IMF guy.
PB: And there’s a series of musical numbers. We always do that.
VZ: A tuneful tango to Justice Scalia and Justice Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, hoping that they can bridge the gap with love.
PB: It works as a tango because, of course, she’s trying to pull him to the left but he has to go to the right. . . .
We were coming up on our 20th wedding anniversary last year and thought to ourselves, “We should do a show again.” So we set aside an hour just about every day for a couple months to meet and work and improvise. We started out by doing long improvisations in the kitchen, and every now and then our 14-year-old daughter would be saying, “Is everybody OK down there?” Because there’d be some kind of shrieking going on. We did the show for a few weeks in Los Angeles, and then it was time to go back to work and do a million things. We knew we wanted to do it in Chicago, so we kind of cleared our schedules for this thing, to come in and do it for a week.
VZ: It was nightmarish the week before it opened [in LA]. I thought, “My God, it’s not like we haven’t been on the stage.” But it was really frightening. There was a moment where, Do we really need to do this?
PB: That’s her process. My process is, “Oh yeah, we can do this! It’ll be fine! We’ll be fine!” And it was great and we enjoyed it, and it felt completely comfortable.
VZ: We haven’t been onstage for 20 years together, but there’s been this continuous conversation that started somewhere in 1985 and never really stopped. That patter, that continuous joke, that sense of comedy defines us.
Why pick Nichols and May as the model?
VZ: They’re sophisticated, intelligent, sexy.
PB: The quality of the writing. That was the thing. All this stuff is improvisationally based but they really crafted their scripts, and they were built so well they were like little symphonies. They sped up and slowed down and they had all kinds of levels and there was always a great twist at the end. We just respected the way that they built each of those sketches and we looked at it like, OK, that’s the standard for what we do. It’s got to be built like that.
VZ: For me, when I watch it, not only is it crafted so beautifully but it comes from a warm, beautiful place. The comedy is very bright and deep and resonating with character.