Richmond has plenty of husband and wife acting teams that regularly appear on stage together. Jeff Clevenger and Jennifer Frank make merry on a weekly basis as part of the Take 5 Comedy Troupe. David Bridgewater and Janine Russo-Fuller will bring their conjugal chemistry to bear when the Barksdale Theater opens "The Taming of the Shrew" next spring. But for longevity and sheer ubiquity, you can't beat the dynamic duo of Richard Koch and Vicki McLeod, who are currently co-starring in "See How They Run" at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre and Restaurant.
In the past dozen years, this talented couple has appeared in at least 35 plays together, from touring shows with Theatre IV to the drawing-room comedies of the Theatre at Bolling Haxall House, to what's becoming a regular gig at the Mill. Even if you've never set foot in a local theater, you may recognize this pair from a series of commercials they completed recently for the Heilig-Meyers Furniture Company. Filming the commercials was part of a 17-day, cross-country promotional tour for the company during which they traveled from Charlotte, N.C., to Malibu, Calif.
You'd think even the healthiest of marriages would feel the strain of working and living together while keeping such a grueling schedule, but Koch and McLeod seem to thrive on it. How do they stay civil instead of getting stressed? "We're just goofballs, basically," says the vivacious McLeod, her kinky blonde tresses framing an attractive face dominated by a winning smile. "We try to have a good time and keep our sense of humor. Nothing gets so bad that we can't laugh about it."
While the couple's good humor is obvious in their gentle kidding of one another, their mutual respect is equally apparent. "I love and enjoy working with Vicki, not just because she's my wife," says the boyishly handsome Koch, "but because she is a great actress. She's a joy to work with." He adds, "We have pressures like other couples but ours never come from working together."
Neither Koch nor McLeod was looking for a mate when they began work on a comedy pilot for WCVE in 1987. But while the television show went nowhere, the two actors were on their way to a rich and rewarding relationship. "It was amazing to me," McLeod remembers. "I never thought I would meet someone and have it click that way." Koch echoes the sentiment: "Almost immediately, we both just knew."
Since getting married in 1989, the couple has played husband and wife, brother and sister, and, in "See How They Run," two friends who get mistaken for lovers. While often paired in comedies, both actors have shone individually in dramatic productions: Koch was one of the strong points of last year's "Floyd Collins" and McLeod made an impressive impact in 1992's "A Few Good Men," both at the Mill. One of their most sublime collaborations was in the Mill's production of "Cocoanuts," Koch taking on the role of Groucho Marx and McLeod playing Harpo. "We had started going to events dressed as the Marx Brothers," recalls McLeod, "and it was just so much fun. We're usually low-key about getting different roles, but when we heard that the Mill was doing 'Cocoanuts,' well, we lobbied hard for that one."
Swift Creek Mill director Tom Width says he has cast Koch and McLeod in four shows over the past three years mostly because they are such seasoned professionals. He explains, "there are a few benefits of them being a couple they come [to rehearsal] in the same car. But I like working with them because they are individually really hard workers. They understand timing and they take notes like a dream."
Another accomplished husband and wife team, Debra Wagoner and Joe Pabst, join Koch and McLeod in "See How They Run." According to Width, working with couples can have its challenges: "There's an ease in working together that can make it hard to get to work. Sometimes they just crack each other up."
But for McLeod, that laughter is essential to keeping her and Koch connected. "Our life must sometimes seem like a stand-up comedy routine," she says. Perhaps it does, but for this comic couple, it's a routine that doubles as a formula for success, both onstage and off.
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