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Penny Fuller stars in the West Coast debut of '13 Things About Ed Carpolotti'

Penny Fuller
Photograph: David Williams Penny Fuller

Penny Fuller may not be all that scandalous herself—her most disreputable act (that she’d tell us, at least) was divorcing her husband and leaving behind her Southern roots—but she has plenty of experience dealing with misconduct onstage.

In the one-woman show 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti, which makes its West Coast debut at the Broad Stage today, the actress stars as a widow who discovers that her recently deceased husband has left her in massive debt. To make matters worse, she receives a letter from someone threatening to tell the world about his misdeeds unless she pays $1 million in ransom. But the widow refuses to believe that her husband did her wrong.

"It just doesn't fit with who he is and what they had,” says Fuller. “So through figuring it out and hanging in there and never giving up on him—even though there are times she wants to—it resolves itself. It’s a love story, is what it is. It’s a beautiful love story." The show is based on Jeffrey Hatcher's play Three Viewings, with book, music and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, who also directs. It premiered in New York in 2012, with Fuller starring as Virginia Carpolotti, as she has done in productions along the East Coast ever since. So why didn't 13 Things make it to Los Angeles sooner?

"I'll tell you something, theater is in a funny place right now," she says. "It seems, at least on Broadway, it’s either for children or it’s very edgy. There’s nothing like it used to be, which is like real life."

Fuller has been in show business since 1962, starring in Barefoot in the Park, Cabaret, All About Eve and dozens of other Broadway and Off Broadway productions, plus appearing in TV series like Room for Two, Love & War and Matlock. She says there are now fewer roles for women her age.

"I think that the business of show business is aimed at the bigger audiences, and they think their bigger audiences are young people. I don’t know how young people are paying these prices, or older people for that matter," she says. "But there aren't a lot of parts, and it’s very sad, because I know there are [older] people out there who want to be spoken to by a playwright or a theatrical experience. I think they go to the younger things, but it’s not the same."

Adapting to the changing times, Fuller has shifted to singing and cabaret-style productions, which she believes offer more opportunities and provide nostalgia for the old world of theater. While not a cabaret, this production features just Fuller singing onstage with a pianist. And though an older crowd will enjoy it, it’s not only for them, Fuller says. "It has everything that life has in it: humor, sadness, everything."

13 Things About Ed Carpolotti is at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica through Jan 29 (310-434-3200, thebroadstage.com). $45.

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