Just four minutes before her half-hour call at Curvy Widow on September 12, Elizabeth Ward Land learned she would go on that evening in the title track of Bobby Goldman. Ward Land regularly plays pal Heidi in Goldman’s autobiographical Off-Broadway musical, and though she had studied the role and had a put-in rehearsal, she didn’t expect to actually go on for Nancy Opel as Bobby. (She’d later learn Opel had food poisoning from a press event earlier that day.)
With 30 minutes to curtain, Ward Land mentally prepared for her role debut. Fortunately, her husband, fellow actor Ken Land, was nearby to lend his support. Very nearby, in fact—he plays the role of Bobby’s husband, the late playwright James Goldman.
“I remember Ken coming down the hall,” Ward Land told Playbill. Before she could finish, her husband chimed in: “Hey, Blue!” he says, joining in the telling of the story.
“He calls me Blue,” Ward Land adds. Their seamless back-and-forth speaks to nearly 20 years of marriage and an even longer catalog of shared showbiz tales. She lowers her voice to imitate her husband: “’Do you need anything?’ And I’m like, ‘Nope, I’m good!’ I went into the zone. You just have to get to a place to say ‘Okay, I have to do this.’”
In the first scene, James and Bobby share a final moment together before his sudden death. That night, though only two people stood on stage, there were two married pairs: Elizabeth and Ken, plus Bobby and Jim. As Jim departed, leaving Bobby a widow, so did Ken—leaving Elizabeth to her one-night-only star turn.
”It was surreal, because I wasn’t totally doing the character like I do it with Nancy,” says Land. “I was watching [Elizabeth] and saying, ‘Are you going to be okay? Do you know where to go? Do you know when you hand me this and take this from me?’ After the scene, I knew she was fine. So the next time I go out there, I knew I didn’t have to take care of her.”
Though the two have shared the stage before (including in Curvy Widow, albeit in a different capacity), this performance resonated on an unprecedented emotional level for Ward Land. “We’ve been together a long time,” she says. “We do everything together; we have all the same friends, the same interests. I don’t remember where he ends and I begin anymore. That was easy to play.”
But as the play progresses, James returns (as a spirit over Bobby’s shoulder), until she is finally able to say her ultimate goodbyes. “I guess I would be able to say goodbye to him,” Ward Land says as she ponders facing a similar situation. “But it definitely tugged at my heartstrings. That was where the elements of the character really hit home for me.”
While the performance allowed for a (perhaps macabre) acting exercise for the couple to experience loss of one another, the show also offered the opportunity for the two to try something new together: dating in the digital age.
The Lands met at a wedding in 1995. “I didn’t have a computer when I met him,” she says. “I didn’t have a cell phone. I had no experience internet dating. So this whole world is new since I have met him. It’s crazy.” And as Ward also plays one of Bobby’s suitors following James’ death, the two were able to relive the early stages of a romance on stage: a new first kiss after nearly two decades of partnership.
The couple lives in New Jersey and routinely commute together. “It can get to be relentless,” Land admits. “There’s not a break from each other.”
“We’re doing good, though,” adds Ward Land. “We allow ourselves to be tired of each other; on our commute, we can have quiet time. We already know everything that went on today, so there’s no catching up. If you want to look at your phone without judgment, that’s fine.”
After appearing on Broadway and on tour together in The Scarlet Pimpernel, plus in a handful of regional productions and readings, the couple adds Off-Broadway to their list of shared projects.
Land doesn’t want it to end there: “I told Lizzy a couple days ago, ‘You know what we need? To get on the same television show.’ We’ve actually come close.” He turns to his wife: “One time in the last year, you were going to be my secretary or something.”
This time, she’s the one to jump in and pick up the story: “Your lawyer—I was going to be your lawyer. Better than that.” She laughs before adding, “Neither one of us got it, so there.”
Curvy Widow, featuring a score by Drew Brody, is scheduled to play through November 5 at the Westside Theatre.