“We had a lot of Kates in this green room,” says Kate Duffy backstage at iO where she and actor Katie Rich are unwinding after the debut performance of The Mary Kay Letourneau Players Present…, a fascinating, character-driven sketch show playing Thursdays at iO. Duffy’s referring to opening act the Katydids, a talented group of six women whose names are all derived from Catherine. It’s tough competition to be a standout Kate in this town, but Duffy and Rich, two comedians who’ve both been in the scene for many years, consistently rise above.
Rich might be the more recognizable of the pair, at least to fans of Second City. She was one of just two women in its recent Mainstage show South Side of Heaven where she played it both restrained (as an agoraphobic passenger on a Southwest flight from hell) and bawdy (as a trashy, chain-smoking, penny slots addict). She’s now in rehearsals for its 100th revue, likely debuting this spring. Duffy is an equally formidable and ubiquitous comedian. She teaches at Second City, plays with improv supergroup the Playboys—which performs monthly at the de Maat Theatre and includes Susan Messing and Rachael Mason, and is an offshoot of the influential quartet Children of a Lesser God—and can be seen in the upcoming, locally shot improvised feature Close Quarters. That film stars a dizzying array of local talent, with Duffy starring opposite TJ Jagodowski (the film is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit).
Together Rich and Duffy are two performers cut from the same cloth, brassy ladies whose range in Mary Kay includes a duo of broads recovering from an all-night bender, and down-on-their luck Russian women bemoaning their lot in life. So similar are Duffy and Rich that when I inquire about common threads, they answer practically in unison. “We’re both guys’ guys, but we’re girls. We both like sports and beer. We both have drunken fathers. We’re both very blue collar,” they say in overlapping, Altmanesque fashion.
The pair met several years ago while Rich was standing in for a pregnant Mason in Children of a Lesser God and both ended up touring together with Second City. “We just clicked,” Duffy says. “We have very similar sensibilities,” Rich agrees. “When I would try and write something I always had Kate in mind. I’d think her brain plus my brain would make this better. We’re intelligent idiots.”
Mary Kay teams them up with director Irene Marquette (40 Whacks), who manages to weave the duo’s love of icky news stories and complex characters into a show that swivels neatly back and forth between scenes involving the strange (an architect can’t understand how his rendering resembles the Twin Towers) and the familiar (a woman uninvites her best friend to her wedding). These are not always attractive characters. “Watching the women in life that are bawdy, those are the women that are out there pursuing their dreams and saying what’s on their minds,” Duffy says. “I’ve always been drawn to that type of person.”
As for the future of the Mary Kay Letourneau Players (which takes its name from the fact that both Rich and Duffy are in their thirties and noticing younger men around them), they plan to continue creating scripts and pitch pilots.“To us, this is our writing group,” Rich says. Adds Duffy, “We have a lot of hopes and dreams in the hopper.”