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Thursday, April 18, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Almost Live' To Totally Live -- TV's Nancy Guppy Switches To The Stage To Look At Some Of Life's Crazier Moments

Special To The Seattle Times

----------------------------------------------------------------- Theater preview

"Cheaper Than Therapy" by Nancy Guppy. Presented by Unexpected Productions and Big Fragile Ego Productions at The Market Theater, 1428 Post Alley; opens 8 p.m. next Thursday, and plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays until June 1; 781-9273. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Nancy Guppy, actress and writer on KING-TV's long-running "Almost Live," gives you her undivided attention when she talks to you. She leans in and takes your eye, her manner bright, confident, well-mannered and funny. But this calm air can be misleading. For every five miles of highway through Nancy Guppy's seemingly even psyche there's a hairpin exit to an unseen road. Guppy likes the exits. She frequents them often.

"Neurosis is what drives a lot of the stuff I write," she says suddenly, bolting upright in her window seat at Queen Anne's Caffe Ladro. "A lot of it is taken from my own life, from family relationships, and issues in my marriage. I think the weirdness between people, the minutiae of relationships, is really funny. I love to see people go psychotic in normal situations."

Guppy has successfully used "Almost Live" as a vehicle for her interest in the compulsively crazed for five years, but last year she started looking for another avenue.

"I was getting bored, really," she explains. "It's hard to stay fresh. So I started thinking I'd like to join some pieces from `Almost Live' with new material and do them in a theater. Theater is totally different from television."

A collection of 32 skits

The resulting production, "Cheaper Than Therapy," is 32 sketches performed by a seven-member cast, sans Guppy. Familiar works from "Almost Live" include "East Side Story" ("West Side Story" in Bellevue) and "Is She Pretty?" (mate-baiting), while "Family Dinner" (dysfunctional relatives) and "Heavy Metal Girl" (a sweet and sour monologue) are new. They run from 15 seconds up, from broadly burlesque to bittersweet. Stories from Guppy's experience.

Guppy grew up seemingly normal on Magnolia with her mom, dad and younger sister. She attended Queen Anne High and the University of Washington, majoring in speech and communications. She graduated in 1982 and sped directly to the Customer Service Credit Department at Nordstrom.

After three years she became a secretary in the Cornish drama department. She was then dating Joe Guppy, an "Almost Live" regular. "I started to get little parts because of Joe," she recalls, "like, whenever they needed `a woman.' I started writing because I knew that was the only way to get hired."

In 1989 the Guppys moved to Los Angeles when Joe got signed to HBO's "Not Necessarily the News." When that ended they went free-lance, writing together. Guppy says that was her real training. "The more you write, the more you can do." After three years in L.A., she returned to "Almost Live," but her skills and interests were still growing. When she began thinking about the stage, she contacted The Market Theater team, assembled a cast and called director Rita Giomi, a friend of "Almost Live" teammate Tracy Conway.

Nervous, psychotic moments

"I like sitting back and just watching it, being the producer," Guppy says. "I'm really happy to have Rita, she's done everything from children's theater to Shakespeare and lots of comedy. She makes it seamless." She has high praise for her actors Barb Klansnic, Ron Hippe, Tina LaPlant, Chris Tharp, Jeff Weatherford, Kim Evey and Keith Dahlgren. But it hasn't all been smooth going.

"I was so nervous at the first read-through," she remembers. "I didn't know what to expect. Then nobody said anything! I'm thinking `It sucks! My stuff sucks!' I made Joe come to bed with me at like 9 so I could curl up in a fetal position and cling. It was a nightmare. I thought they hated it. They didn't, but it gets so psychotic."

"Actually, I was intrigued by Nancy's ideas right away," says Giomi now. "They're very funny, but often poignant as well. She's done a great job developing the show, but what she's written and revealed is also really quite brave."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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