Performing Arts

‘Laverne & Shirley’ stars keep the fun flowing at New Theatre

Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka on stage in New Theatre's 'Beau Jest'

Actors, longtime friends and co-workers Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka, who once starred together in the television sitcom, "Laverne & Shirley," are back on stage together in "Beau Jest," a comedy running at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland
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Actors, longtime friends and co-workers Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka, who once starred together in the television sitcom, "Laverne & Shirley," are back on stage together in "Beau Jest," a comedy running at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland

An actor’s life is one of serial friendships. Performers come together for a movie, play or TV show. Intense relationships are forged during the creative process.

And then everyone leaves for other jobs with other relationships.

This thespian fact of life makes the long-haul friendship of Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka something special.

“We know we can count on each other,” Williams said this week after the two completed a matinee performance of the comedy “Beau Jest” at the New Theatre Restaurant. “He’s my best friend.”

The two met 40 years ago when both starred with Penny Marshall in the hit sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.”

Williams, who already had under her belt movie roles in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” played Shirley. Mekka, a Tony nominee who performed in musicals and light opera, was cast as Carmine, her on-again-off-again beau.

The show, a spin-off of the 1950s-set “Happy Days,” ran for eight seasons on ABC and became a Tuesday-night ritual for millions.

Decades after “Laverne & Shirley” ceased production (though it’s been continuously available through syndication), Williams and Mekka are still friends and still working together. This is the sixth (or seventh — they’re not sure) time the two have teamed up for live theater.

“His family is like my family,” Williams said. “And vice versa.”

“And her dog is named Eddie,” Mekka said with a knowing smile. “So there…”

In “Beau Jest” they play a loving/bickering Jewish couple who kvetch so much about their daughter’s unmarried status that she hires an actor to pose as her nice Jewish fiancé.

Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

In fact, sitting side by side on a sofa on the stage where they perform six days a week, Williams and Mekka almost seem like an old married couple. They finish each other’s sentences. They make private jokes. Their personal friendship and ability to read each other help them get gigs.

Williams: “There’s this built-in rhythm we have.”

Mekka: “She knows when I’m going to go up” — forget — “on my lines. There’s a look on my face. Or when I’m doing good. Actually, she doesn’t go up that often.”

Williams: “We just fell into this natural rhythm. You don’t have that with everybody.”

Mekka: “When they hire us, they know we’ve already got the timing,”

Williams: “Eddie has perfect timing. It’s a dream to work with someone with perfect timing.”

Mekka: “Likewise.”

Williams: “But he is one of the few people who makes me laugh out loud. I have to stop myself (during a performance).”

Both actors professed a fondness for clean humor.

“I love a good laugh, but I don’t like what I call crotch humor,” Williams said. She recalled that the network censor overseeing “Laverne & Shirley” was a born-again Christian.

“He wouldn’t let us get away with anything. So we had to — and it’s part of our success — we had to get around all that. It made us better.

“It could be saucy. I could do this to Carmine” — she waggled her shoulders toward Mekka in oooh-la-la fashion — “and he’d say, ‘I’m going to take a cold shower.’ And he” — the censor — “would let that pass.”

On May 16, a Monday — their only day off each week — Williams and Mekka will sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the Royals’ seventh-inning stretch at Kauffman Stadium.

Williams plans on exploring the city now that her dog Eddie has gotten over an ailment.

Mekka is an avid foodie.

“I like to fish and eat. And I’m going to eat my way through Kansas City. Yesterday I got a pound of ribs at Joe’s Kansas City.” He turned to Williams. “You gotta have some.”

The one disappointment of his encounter with KC barbecue, Mekka said, was that he asked for the restaurant’s rub recipe and was turned down.

“The guy said if he told me he’d have to kill me.”

Both marvel that they are among what Williams calls “that 2 percent who are working actors.

“Sometimes I look at the other cast members who work here, and they’re all working actors. And I think, hmmm, maybe I should move to Kansas.”

“Yeah,” Mekka added. “You could get a good rub.”

Williams shot him a raised eyebrow.

“Wait,” Mekka said. “I meant that in a good way. Barbecue.”

Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s stories at butlerscinemascene.com.

Onstage

“Beau Jest,” starring Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka, runs through July 3 at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park. Go to NewTheatre.com or call 913-649-7469.

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