Life's stage brings couple fitting roles

Theater: Kathy and Conrad Feininger lend a family air to the Rep Stage production of "Sleuth."

March 30, 2000|By Nelson Pressley | Nelson Pressley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Patrons of Rep Stage's production of "Sleuth" will find two Feiningers listed in the program, Kathy (the director) and Conrad (one of the play's two actors). And, yes, they're married.

They met 17 years ago in Minneapolis while working on George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's "The Royal Family" -- a play, as luck would have it, about life in the theater.

"She was stage-managing it," Conrad Feininger recalls, "and I came in to audition. I always said if I ever found a good stage manager, I'd marry her."

Says Kathy Feininger, "Here was this tall, thin man with this enormous voice, and, of course, we were all just instantly drawn to him. And we knew each other how many months before we got married?" She looks to her husband.

"Met in April," he says, "married in November."

Though they both work in the theater, Kathy reports that "we couldn't be more different."

For one thing, Kathy works with children; she is the director of education and outreach at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring (where the couple live). She also likes musicals. She directed "Godspell" for the Round House a few seasons back and will direct "The Fantasticks" there next month.

Conrad prefers the urbane, very adult European plays (by writers such as Friedrich Durrenmatt and George Bernard Shaw). He often acts in such plays with the Washington Stage Guild. And although he will be in his wife's production of "The Fantasticks," he doesn't typically go for musicals.

There is also a country-city difference between the Feiningers. Kathy grew up in Alliance, Neb., while Conrad was raised in Cambridge, Mass. They converged in Minneapolis.

"I was trying to get away from the East Coast," Conrad explains, "and she was trying to get to a city."

"Any city," Kathy adds.

Fate sent them to the Washington area 12 years ago, when Kathy landed a job with the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theater.

Conrad worked as an understudy at Arena Stage for a period, then hooked on as an actor with the Washington Stage Guild when artistic director John MacDonald offered him several roles.

The Stage Guild has been as good to his wife. Her first directing job "downtown," as she puts it, was on the Stage Guild's "The Late Edwina Black." In a twist that makes this production of "Sleuth" seem like even more of a family affair for the Feiningers, MacDonald is performing opposite Conrad.

The Feiningers did "Sleuth" in Michigan 15 years ago, when they were newlyweds.

Kathy remembers that back then, her husband felt "it was his right to have an easier time with the director than other company members."

"She used to bend over backwards to indicate that she was not going to play favorites with me," Conrad says, "which meant that I would get much harsher treatment than anyone else. Now, I think we've achieved enough security that she metes out justice with an equal hand."

As for the potential stresses of working with your spouse, Kathy says that spats were at a minimum during "Sleuth" rehearsals.

"I think we've only had two evenings," she says, "where everyone in the building knew we were married."

"Well," Conrad says, "we do know where all the buttons are."

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