Husband and wife perform as married couple in comedy

Published 10:16 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beckwith Theatre Company’s romantic comedy “Southern Comforts,” featuring a real married couple, owes its appearance to last October’s homecoming by Judith Ivey.
In real life, Paul and Karen Pugh have been married 25 years come March after meeting at a Halloween party through Southwestern Michigan College.
Some time later, he dreamed of their meeting, except he was working on scaffolding.
Karen wore not a Halloween costume at their first encounter, but her “sexy” leather jacket. He asked her to lunch.
Three weeks later, they married.
On stage, Gus and Amanda aren’t married when Kathleen Clark brings together the crusty northern widower in 1996 New Jersey who is as uncomfortable talking about sex as Archie Bunker, and the feisty Southerner from Tennessee.
Unlike the Pughs, they are pulled into each other’s orbits by mutual love of baseball and confinement by rain while delivering church donation envelopes during a visit to her daughter.
The New York Times called it a “delightful, even sneakily sexy romance.”
“I don’t even like my guy,” Paul said. “He’s kind of crude and a church-going Republican, but some of the lines sound very familiar to us.”
Karen’s character feels more similar to herself.
“I like her. She’s self-reliant, and I like to think I am, too. She cares about people and kind of has a big heart, but she doesn’t put up with any guff when Gus tries to pull stuff.”
Though the Pughs seldom play opposite each other as husband and wife, there was the time he was a senator and she portrayed his spouse in “Born Yesterday.”
“Even though they face some of the same challenges other couples do,” Karen said, “some are unique. Gus, despite his age, is not willing to give up what he’s been able to do. There’s a scene around changing the storm window.
“All of a sudden he can’t do something he’s done for years. They realize they could lose each other.”
“This is one of the plays Judith Ivey recommended,” Paul said of the Tony-winning actress who lived on Orchard Street in Dowagiac from 1965-1968 when her father, Nathan, was SMC’s first president. “She directed it before and liked it.”
“One of our conversations with her when she was here,” said Karen, who’s actually from Des Moines, “was how difficult it is to find plays for small casts because we have a hard time putting together big casts.”
Besides the Beckwith directing debut of Dawn Keech, Jim Keech’s daughter-in-law from Watervliet (although she acted in “Laundry and Bourbon”), Paul Pugh said it will be his final major role after a couple a year since Beckwith’s 1990 founding when he was 49.
Pugh had a hand in writing the community theater’s first presentation, “Death Unrehearsed,” and three others, including “The State of Michigan vs. the House of David” with a 29-member cast about the 1927 trial of the Benton Harbor religious sect.
He performed “Darrow” as a one-man show.
Paul, owner of Olympia Books since 1987, has a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.
“Setbuilding gets to me. I can’t do it anymore,” Paul said Tuesday night during a rehearsal break.
“I was supposed to do it with a couple other people, so we put a notice in the newspaper that we were going to meet (to launch  community theater), and the other two people didn’t show up. Being ignorant of what this involved, I just went ahead.”