It’s unusually quiet for a weekend afternoon. Only Paul Linke and two of his four children are at home, and in this temporary lull, time--which usually flies so quickly here--seems to have slowed a bit.
Life has made the 51-year-old actor-writer acutely aware of time. His first wife, Francesca, a radiantly vital woman who believed in natural living and home birth, succumbed to breast cancer at age 37. She died upstairs in this cozy, Cape Cod-style house in Mar Vista, in the same room in which she had delivered two of their three children. Linke raised the youngsters on his own until he met actress Christine Healy and proposed to her across the dining table at which he is now sitting. When she gave birth, the breathless cycle of child-rearing began anew.
Linke chronicled these events in his popular one-man shows “Time Flies When You’re Alive” (1987) and “Life After Time” (1990), which he has been reprising at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. Next weekend, he will introduce another autobiographical monologue, “Father Time,” about the amazing and often amusing characteristics that families pass along, generation to generation. Once he has put the new show on its feet, he will perform all three in repertory.
Time “slips through the fingers,” Linke says, rubbing his fingers together as though sand is trickling through them. “It’s hard to grasp,” he adds, clenching his fist as though trying to hold on to the falling grains.
This, he says, is the overarching message of his shows.
“We’re given this moment--how are we going to spend it? Are we going to fully realize it, or are we going to spend it with a certain perniciousness? Are we going to be fearful?” he asks, leaning forward in a tense attitude. “Or are we going to let it hang out a little bit and celebrate?” he adds, sinking back in his chair. “How are you going to spend your time--in love or fear?”
The question hangs in the air, blending with the heartbeat of a basketball hitting pavement as son Ryan, 17, shoots hoops outside and the low hum of conversation as daughter Rose, 14, talks on the telephone in another room. (Christine and daughter Lily, 6 1/2, are off at a birthday party; son Jasper, 19, is at a summer job.)
It’s clear that, of the options he’s just outlined, Linke is attempting to stick to the path of love. He affectionately addresses the towering Ryan as “Hon,” and he swells with fatherly pride when listing the children’s accomplishments. Of Christine--perhaps best known locally for her performance in the Mark Taper Forum’s “Aristocrats"--he contentedly says: “God blessed me twice in my life, to find soul mates. I’m a lucky person.”
The new show is a repository of such feelings, conveyed through stories about Linke and his father--Richard O. Linke, 81, a prominent television producer who helped to shepherd such programs as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” and “Matlock"--and about Linke and his oldest son, Jasper.
He was inspired to create the piece, he says, when he looked into the mirror one morning and found his father looking back.
“Every day, I find myself slipping toward him--embracing him on a cellular level,” Linke says. ". . . I realized that I was sort of a genetic segue between my dad’s gene pool and my son’s.”
Though Linke intends the show--directed by Charles Nelson Reilly--as a tribute to his dad, he doesn’t shy from talking about their frictions: the emotional distance he perceived in his father, the breakup of his parents’ marriage.
“I know my dad did the best that he could,” Linke says, “and I recognize now that I’m doing the best that I can, and that all along the way, my kids are probably looking at me, thinking, ‘Oh my God, what is wrong with him?’ But I hope that someday they’ll realize just how much effort, how much love, how much work, how much stress, how much fear, how much drama one has to go through to get out the other side.”
Meanwhile, Linke attempts to be an easy-access dad (“I have spent more time with my kids than they’ve ever wanted,” he says with a laugh. “As an actor, you have so much downtime”) and to create an environment “in which conversations can occur that allow the children to have their integrity honored.”
Later, when Rose is asked for her opinion on how he’s doing, she expresses a typical teen’s horror at the thought of having a deep, share-all conversation with her parents. But she says: “Oh, yeah, they’re good at listening--and they’re good at talking to me about things.”
Though Linke has long been tied to the L.A. theater community as a booker and emcee for the Garden Theatre Festival--a free yearly performing arts event in the ‘70s--and as a member of the revered Company Theatre, he is perhaps best known for his television work, particularly “CHiPs,” on which he played Artie Grossman, the know-it-all motorcycle cop who tended to be the butt of office jokes, and the movie “Parenthood,” in which he played Dianne Wiest’s suitor.
In October 1987, just a year and a half after Francesca’s death, Linke quietly introduced “Time Flies” at the Powerhouse--the small Santa Monica theater that he founded and had led until Francesca’s illness.
Declaring his love for Francesca, sharing his most private grief over her death and finding abundant humor along the way, he held audiences spellbound--and tapped into something universal.
Reviewing for The Times, Sylvie Drake called it “a shattering picture of one fragile family’s terrifying voyage through upheaval and trauma.”
Actor John Ritter, a close friend since college days at USC, initially tried to talk Linke out of performing his emotional high-wire act. But Ritter ended up being so moved by the show that he and his then-wife, Nancy, backed its transfer to the more prominent Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood.
“Paul has this amazing knack of being completely open and honest,” Ritter says by telephone, “and almost sacrificing himself to the audience. He almost emotionally throws himself into the mosh pit, and we sort of psychically support him and pass him around.”
Of his continuing affection for “Time Flies,” Ritter says he particularly appreciates the show’s “idea of sharing--the idea that nothing is real unless it’s shared.” It’s “seeing little, tiny moments in the continuing daily glory of mankind--saying, ‘Look at this; look at what I found on the beach. Amid all this clutter and garbage and beauty, I found this one little shell that I want to show you.’ ”
The show was filmed for HBO, where it aired in 1989.
As he did with “Time Flies” and “Life After Time,” Linke performs “Father Time” without a formal, finished script. Instead, he spins the story live each time out of a series of well worked-out ideas.
“I trust in the idea that--if I just step out of the way--all I have to do is tell” the story, Linke says.
As the conversation winds down, Christine and Lily walk in from the birthday party. With a youngster’s curiosity and an adult’s confidence, Lily engages her father’s visitor in conversation.
Asked what she most enjoys doing with her family, she replies: “My favorite thing to do with my mom, my dad, my brother and my other brother is to play with them. And my sister, I like to do art with her, because she’s a good drawer and so am I.”
“I’m a very good interview,” Lily concludes, “because I like to talk a lot.”
“Yes, she likes to talk,” Linke says. “You’ve heard of Mini-Me [in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”]? She’s Mini-Monologuist. We talked earlier about the genetic material just passing through? It’s right there.” *
“A TIME TRILOGY,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Dates: “Father Time,” Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; next Sunday and July 25, 7 p.m. “Time Flies When You’re Alive,” July 23 and 30, 8 p.m. “Life After Time,” July 24 and 31, 8 p.m. A marathon of all three, Aug. 1, at 3, 6 and 8 p.m. Prices: $20-$22; $50 for Aug. 1. Phone: (310) 822-8392.