Husband and wife actors Diane and Brian Sutherland speak the way they sing onstage, with overlapping interjections and a genuine rapport. Indeed, the stars of “A Second Chance,” at the Public Theater through April 13, are living the story of love found later in life in more ways than one.
Diane wasn’t sure she’d get married — until she and Brian wed in their early 40s. Sutherland says that initially, walking down the aisle wasn’t a huge deal to her, but as she got into her late 30s, it got tough. “I really wanted to share my life with somebody and it wasn’t coming to me,” she says.
She went on blind dates and set-ups and says she definitely would have had an online dating profile, had that been an option then. “I was trying to keep myself open to people beyond my sphere, and I did.” But she had no luck — until she shared the stage with Brian in the 1997 Broadway revival of “1776.” The rest, so to speak, is one for the Playbills.
Their current musical is based on details culled from the real life of the show’s composer and lyricist, Ted Shen. In it, a widower meets and falls for a divorcee.
Though their late-blooming romance in real life is about a decade off from that of their real-life characters, the Sutherlands say their own circumstances still give them a way to approach the piece honestly. “We have the advantage of knowing each other so well. We have this rich history and rich relationship that is for free — we don’t have to work at that,” says Brian, with Diane chiming in to add that some occasional time apart doesn’t hurt, either. They agree that some of the biggest truths they’ve taken from their experience onstage come from the story itself.
“Even though tragedy, sadness and grief comes into your life, it doesn’t mean your life is over,” Diane says of playing Jenna each night. She says she hopes audiences come away with the same kind of hope she had after meeting Brian. “There might be something good, better, different, wonderful around the corner. I want people to realize that you’re never too late.”
For Brian, coming to the role of an older man who has lost his wife has allowed some moments of reflection. “I thought I would have it all figured out by this age — nobody warned me about that,” he says. The Sutherlands also agree that their search for answers onstage is a rare opportunity, especially in an industry obsessed with youth and image.
“A lot of our peers are experiencing this — single, married, whatever. We got here and we’re still figuring it out,” Diane says, hoping that the audience will applaud the idea of embracing uncertainty and take that with them after the curtain falls. The payoff, she says, is huge.
And she would know.