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Comedian-actress Rita Rudner brings a bit of real life to Laguna Playhouse’s “Act 3...”

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Comedian Rita Rudner, right, and actor Charles Shaughnessy will perform at Laguna Playhouse’s “Act...”
(Sandie Ward / Coastline Pilot)

Rita Rudner has just finished putting on her false eyelashes.

Now she can take a call.

Rudner, comedian, writer and actress, who holds the title for “Longest Running Solo Comedy Show in Las Vegas History,” is returning to the Laguna Playhouse for the U.S. premiere of “Act 3...” It runs locally through the month.

The part-time Laguna Beach resident, who spends considerable time in Las Vegas, is starring in the two-person show, which is chock-full of dialogue between a husband and wife who have been married for several years.

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In real life, Rudner has been married to English producer and writer Martin Bergman for 27 years. They have a daughter, 13-year-old Molly.

Playing her character’s husband is Emmy Award-winning actor Charles Shaughnessy, who starred in the CBS show “The Nanny.”

The comedy is a collaboration among family and friend.

Bergman, who is directing the show, contacted Shaughnessy, whom he has known since their studies at the University of Cambridge, to perform the role of the husband, who has a certain amount of intellectual arrogance.

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(Well, Shaughnessy did represent high society as Maxwell Sheffield in the long-running TV series.)

Though Rudner won’t divulge too much of the plot — “It’s a secret; you just have to see it” — she did say the play, which has comedic elements, explores relationships in an entertaining way.

Again real life is mirrored.

Of taking direction from Bergman, she said: “It’s not an unusual thing for me. That’s how I met him and he hired me.”

As for Bergman?

“My friend is easier,” Bergman quipped. “I’m more polite toward him and less impatient. Rita puts up with me.”

Rudner met Bergman in 1984. They worked together and then married five years later. The movie “Peter’s Friends” was their first produced script. It went on to win the Peter Sellers’ award for best comedy film and best ensemble acting.

Rudner started out as a dancer, performing on Broadway for 10 years. After appearing in “Annie” and “Follies,” Rudner started exploring the comedy clubs of Manhattan and became interested in doing stand-up after she noticed there weren’t many female comedians.

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She soon became a household name, recording several comedy specials and taking her routine to television shows like “Late Night with David Letterman” and the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

She studied recordings by Jack Benny and Woody Allen, analyzing comedy construction.

With her understated style, she would get laughs with lines like, “When I eventually met Mr. Right, I had no idea that his first name was Always” and “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

“I just sit there and think of things,” she said of finding material. “I work for the audience.”

She once headlined at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Harrah’s and The Venetian. Today, she has stand-up shows planned in Florida, Arizona, San Diego and Israel.

And when she’s not in rehearsals, she’s with her family. Locally, she might be found eating at Peking Dragon in Dana Point or shopping at Marshall’s in San Juan Capistrano.

“I’m a high-flier,” she joked.

Rudner said she is glad to be performing again at the Laguna Playhouse, where she took the stage New Year’s Eve for “Let’s Party Like It’s 2016" and in 2012 for “Tickled Pink.”

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Shaughnessy, who will make his debut at the Laguna Beach theater, said it has been fun to work with Rudner and Bergman.

He had crossed paths with Rudner before but learned that he and Bergman had shared “eerily similar backgrounds” — both had married Jewish American dancers.

“It’s almost been like destiny,” said Shaughnessy, who commutes from his Los Angeles home to the playhouse. “She’s got a terrific sense of humor, and that’s what this character has — an enduring daffiness and eccentricity. It’s very Rita.”

“Act 3...,” which opened with previews Wednesday and will have regular performances starting Saturday, seems to have stirred quite an audience reaction, with wives nudging their husbands after recognizing an unattractive habit.

“I tend to go into the lobby to hear arguments,” Bergman said.

“We expect to see people leaving in separate cars,” Shaughnessy added with a laugh.

That discussion about relationships is what Rudner hopes theatergoers take away from the show.

“I want them to be very entertained and for them to know that we are all in the same boat having a lot of fun,” Rudner said.

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IF YOU GO

What: “Act 3...”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 31.

Where: The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Cost: $48 to $61

Information: (949) 497-2787 or visit lagunaplayhouse.com


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