Orson Bean and Alley Mills in their autobiographical show “Alright Then.” (Jeff Lorch)
Steering the autobiographical stage show “Alright Then” toward its wrap-up, Orson Bean reaches toward his wife, Alley Mills, and grasps her hand as he announces that what he most wants to tell the audience about is “the miracle — and I do mean miracle — of how on earth you wound up saying yes to me.”
“Miracle” is indeed the right word because it connotes gratitude, a feeling that these showbiz veterans display throughout 80 heartwarming, soul-nurturing minutes at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice.
Familiarity with Bean and Mills is by no means necessary to enjoy their jointly crafted show, though some YouTube research beforehand might be fun. (For him, try “The Tonight Show”; for her, “The Wonder Years.”) Nor do you need to have seen his autobiographical stage show “Safe at Home,” to which this could be considered a companion piece.
All it takes to feel as if you’ve known them forever is to experience their smiles as they enter the stage.
He’s 89, with snowy hair; she’s 22 years younger and radiantly blond. Bean acknowledges that when they’re out together, he’ll occasionally notice a passerby studying them, wondering, “How the hell did he get her?” From the happiness they radiate, however, we can see how ridiculous such preconceptions are.
Still, there is the sheer improbability on this planet of 7.6 billion people of any two people meeting and being just right for each other.
In their childhood homes, neither was provided a particularly good model for marriage. As a result, Bean was forced to grow up much too fast and Mills went through a rebellious phase. Back and forth, Bean and Mills reach into their separate histories to recall formative events, with the other helping to narrate or slipping into the scene to portray a supporting character.
For years he was haunted by a sin of omission, she by an assault. The effort of reliving these moments is visible in their bodies, but then they cast their demons aside and seem to emerge lighter on the other side — a live exorcism, of sorts.
Sadness never lasts long, though. These two much prefer jokes and funny faces, and Bean, especially, tends to burst into song.
The memorable figures who emerge are not the Hollywood stars the couple have known, but such personally important figures as Mills’ longtime nanny, who materializes before our astonished eyes as Mills channels the caregiver’s joyful rendition of “Jesus Loves Me,” punctuated by claps and stomps.
The storytelling feels spontaneous, even though it is meticulously shaped and paced under Guillermo Cienfuegos’ direction. Above all, genuineness is this show’s special magic — laughter, pecking kisses, grateful tears.
A quarter-century into their marriage, Bean and Mills are eager to show us how happy and thankful they are. Watch and learn.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends March 25
Info: (310) 822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes