A Widower's Window on the World

Like many widowers, Paul Linke was nervous about dating again after his first wife passed away following a long battle with breast cancer. He hadn't realized how traumatized he was, however, until he started feeling a new lover's breasts for lumps, putting an end to the evening of playful bondage the couple had planned. "Do I need to ask any woman I'm dating for proof of a Pap smear?" Linke wondered. Such is the poignant and kinky humor in Life After Time, Linke's autobiographical solo show about the ordeal of starting over again after great loss, which he performs Monday at the Caldwell Theatre.

The monologue explores Linke's experiences of raising three young children alone, grieving, beginning new relationships, and finally falling in love again and remarrying. Life After Time, which played at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California, last summer, is the second part of Linke's popular trilogy. Part One, called Time Flies When You're Alive, is an account of losing wife Francesca, who died at age 37 in 1987. (It was turned into an HBO special.) "After Time Flies," explains Linke, "I lived in dread of someone saying that this show [Life After Time] wasn't as good as the first," a work that tended to leave audiences stunned with its frank and unmasked stories about death. "What I see with this second show is that starting over has universal appeal. It resonates with everyone. Maybe not in the specifics, but we all have circumstances in which we have to move on."

Not to mention that dating is a subject that gives a monologist an opportunity to talk about the stranger aspects of human behavior. "I encountered some very unique people," Linke says. "I talk about it in a way that no one is put down. I have plenty of foibles myself, and I'm not afraid to show them. But that's what I like about the second show. It's sorta funny and risqué." In one Life After Time segment, for example, Linke reveals that a woman admirer showed up on his doorstep bearing Easter baskets for his young children just days after Francesca died.

Linke's highest-profile acting role may have been playing Artie Grossman on the TV show CHiPS. The longtime actor now appears as the elementary school principal on the popular network drama Judging Amy. He developed his stage trilogy by first doing a 15-minute autobiographical segment for a Los Angeles theater's fundraiser. By the time the full-length version of the first show became a hit in the late '80s, Linke had some big-name fans, among them Charles Nelson Reilly.

A veteran director of solo shows for the likes of Julie Harris and others, Reilly invited Linke to act in a play he was directing, and the two became friends. Linke credits Reilly with inspiring and shaping the third part of his trilogy, Father Time, which is about the performer's relationship with his own father. Reilly, says Linke, is " my ear. He tells me what he likes and what doesn't work." Reilly also gave the actor a chance to return the favor, choosing Linke to direct his own one-man show, Life of Reilly, which ran at the Caldwell last year.

Like Life of Reilly, Life After Time features the actor alone on stage speaking in what seems to be a spontaneous fashion. It's an illusion of course. The show is scripted and polished and directed. "There is a technique and an art to it, and I take it very seriously," Linke notes. Ironically, when TV and film producers first became interested in his solo shows, they wanted the material but not the actor. "They were moved to tears and offered me lots of money but said, 'You have to go away,'" recalls Linke. "They didn't seem to understand that the actor was part of the success of the show."

Chances are that no one in the Caldwell audience will make that mistake.

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Robin Dougherty