I’m sitting across from Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody in a tiny student cafeteria at the Upper West Side’s Jewish Theological Seminary. We’re ostensibly here to talk about how their activist work intersects with their artistic pursuits and their Judaism, a topic they spoke about at length alongside their friend and fellow activist Ruth Messinger to a rapt audience just an hour or so earlier. But we just happen to be meeting on the 40th anniversary their first date, in the exact space where they got married. So instead, I spend a totally delightful half-hour listening to them laugh, cry, and reminisce about their relationship, which is visibly intense, deeply loving, and, as Grody puts it, “Grecian — as in comedy and drama.”
Patinkin and Grody have just returned from Uganda, where they met with refugees in their continuing work with the International Rescue Committee and the American Jewish World Service. Over the past few years, whenever Patinkin isn’t filming Homeland, the two have been traveling all over the world — Cambodia, Greece, Serbia — in an attempt to raise awareness about the ongoing refugee crisis and, as they put it, to “bear witness” to people whose voices have been all but silenced. They’re ideal for this sort work because their ability to totally rivet an audience, whether they’re sharing emotional stories about their travels to an auditorium full people, or regaling a total stranger (me, kind ) with tales their fiery courtship.
Both Patinkin and Grody are Full Theater Kids, in the best possible sense — they don’t tell stories as much as reenact them, interrupting each other to add colorful details, gesticulating wildly, swinging back and forth between tears and laughter. Below is an edited and condensed version our conversation, which ranged from first kisses to fights about communism to lovingly mocking one another for acting like children on vacation.
Vulture: Kathryn, you were just about to tell a story —
Kathryn Grody: When the staff] just asked us if we knew how to get out the building, I had this image the time Mandy and I got locked in the Public Theater.
KG: I was in previews for my one-woman show, and my husband had a lot notes for me, so we went downstairs to the dressing room and he gave them to me jokingly rolls eyes]. And we came back up, and it was totally dark, and we were locked in — everyone thought we had left! We literally spent an hour trying to get out. So we had to call theater producer] Joe Papp to come and let us out at three o’clock in the morning.
Mandy Patinkin: No, he didn’t let us out.
KG: I know, he didn’t let us out. I was making the story shorter.
MP: Oh, okay.
How long were you locked in there?
MP: A long time. Two, two and a half hours.
What’d you do to entertain yourselves?
KG: Blamed each other about whose fault it was. If he hadn’t given me so many notes, we wouldn’t have gotten locked in the theater!
MP: Yeah, it was my fault. Would’ve never happened. It’s a great sense pride for me. Don’t try to make it anyone else’s fault!
What’s it like being back in the spot you got married? What’s a specific memory that stands out to you both?
MP: We were eating around the corner once, on Amsterdam. We took our sons, who are grown men — they’d never been here with us. So we talked our way in. The guards didn’t wanna let us in. We just spent time in that space, took photographs. It was a powerful ceremony, an unforgettable day in my life. It’s hallowed ground to me.
And it’s the 40th anniversary your first date. What’d you guys do that day?
MP: We were doing a play; it was the Ensemble Studio Theater’s first one-act play festival. I’d gotten burned by somebody I was dating and doing a play with a year earlier, so I wouldn’t go out with anybody I was working with until the play was over. And I was dying to get to know her! So we made a date for the Sunday when it was over. Saturday night, I sent her a gift, and I picked up some yellow-button mums that cost nothin’, and some white spriggy stuff. And I showed up at Black Sheep Tavern, which is closed, a long time ago — we tried to go there today, it was on Washington and 11th Street.
And I sat down and gave her the flowers, and I said, “I’m gonna marry you!” She pointed at me and said], “You!” And I snapped a picture. We took a picture just like that today. I’ll show you shows me photo on his phone]. That was 40 years ago, today.
KG: He had a camera out before he even sat down Laughs].
How did you know you’d marry her?
MP: I just knew. I tell people, when I have the privilege talking to young people, I say, “Look, get a partner. I don’t care what your preference is, get a partner so you’re not alone. And if you’re really really lucky, try to find one where you can’t explain what you feel.” Because when the shit hits the fan — and it will — you need to remember that moment that you connected, and couldn’t explain what you felt. That’ll remind you to shut up long enough to calm down and continue.
Kathryn, what was your reaction when he told you he was going to marry you?
KG: I said he was going to get very hurt, because I wasn’t going to marry anybody. Because I didn’t believe in it. And that sort sums up our relationship! Both laugh loudly.]
So what changed your mind?
KG: What changed my mind was the first kiss on the corner —
MP: That was a great moment.
KG: And walking along the pier, crying. We spent the whole afternoon crying. First I explained to him why I didn’t believe in marriage, which is a bourgeois institution. He said, “What does bourgeois mean?” That was the second concerning thing, besides that I had to tell him how to get to the Village. He lived here seven years and didn’t know how to go downtown past 14th Street. Anyway, I didn’t know myself well enough to know that I wasn’t a Russian anarchist Laughs].
What were you guys crying about all afternoon?
KG: He said the only thing that frightened him more than having a relationship was losing one with me. I said, “Oh, that’s what everyone says, just wait.”
MP: And we were crying about common connections. She had lost her parents six months apart. I had lost my father about the same time her two parents died. And then we had a million other things. It was a pround day.