Paul Linke of ‘CHiPs’ fame has come full circle in a series of true-to-life plays that span losing his wife and finding love again

By Christina Campodonico

Paul Linke’s “It’s Time” is a story of true love
Photo by Ed Krieger

Storytelling is like shaping a smooth stone, if you ask Paul Linke.

“If you go to a river, you’ll see incredibly polished stones sitting in the river. The river keeps moving over [the stone], across it, continually shaping it and honing it, and I always felt like the story is the stone and the river is the act of telling it,” he says.

Since 1986, the actor and Mar Vista resident — best known for his role as Officer Artie Grossman on the 1970s TV show “CHiPs” — has been steadily working on a body of autobiographical one-man plays describing his personal journey from a grief-stricken young widower at age 38 to a hopeful man fulfilled by love and happines in his later years.

The critically-acclaimed “Time Flies When You’re Alive,” originally staged at The Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica in 1987 and filmed as an HBO special in 1989, began the series and movingly detailed the loss of Linke’s first wife Francesca “Chex” Draper to breast cancer.

“Life After Time,” chronicling Linke’s life as a single father after his wife’s death, and “Father Time,” exploring the fraught family dynamics among his eldest adolescent son Jasper, his father (Andy Griffith’s personal manager, Richard O. Linke) and himself followed in the late ’90s, creating a trilogy of memoir-like monologues.

Linke’s latest work in this vein, “It’s Time” – now playing at Venice’s Pacific Resident Theatre through April 30 — doesn’t dwell as much on family turmoil or tragedy, but looks at how Linke and his three young children’s lives were mended by the love of his second wife, actress Christine Healy, and the birth of their daughter Lily, in the years following
Francesca’s devastating death.

Having performed “Times Flies When You’re Alive” for decades, Linke felt it was time to create a show dedicated to Healy after the 25th anniversary production of “Time Flies” at Santa Monica’s Ruskin Group Theatre.

“I could see in her eyes — as supportive and as loving as she was being — that you know what, it was time to maybe put that one away, at least until I was able to figure out a show for her,” says Linke, 68.

Returning to familiar territory, the actor and writer started working on a show called “It’s About Time” about death and dying, or, as Linke describes it, “everything you wanted to know about death, but were afraid to ask.”

The show wasn’t turning out as Linke had hoped, but talks with director Edward Edwards led him in a different direction.

“He kept saying to me, ‘Well, the real story is Christine,’” recounts Linke. “And I said, ‘Yeah, but how do you tell that story? It’s a happy story; there’s no story. It’s just a happy story.’”

Linke had an epiphany, however, when visiting his adult children in the Bay Area over Thanksgiving 2015.

“I looked at the kids, I looked at Christine, and I went, ‘My God, you’ve done this incredible, incredible thing.’ I felt like I needed to honor that,” says Linke.

So he started working on a one-man show dedicated to Healy and asked his children to write letters to her, which he read during The Miles Memorial Playhouse’s “Fireside at the Miles” on the night before Valentine’s Day last year. He called the show “It’s Valentime,” and Healy had no idea that the show was about her until she was sitting in the audience.

“She was, I think, in shock, because all of a  sudden she realizes in the middle of it what it is,” recalls Linke. “We came home that night and I gave her the kids’ letters —you know, the hard copies — and she was quite moved, truly sobbing. To get that kind of acknowledgement from them, it’s very meaningful to her and I think she’s proud of the play.”

Since then, Linke has performed his tribute to Healy at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica, a performance which the L.A. Times called, “a bold and unvarnished recapitulation of Linke’s tribulations and triumphs” and “bracingly astringent, a splash in the face reawakening us to our shared mortality.”

With “It’s Time” at Pacific Resident Theatre, it seems that Linke’s lifelong exploration of love, family, grief, death and rejuvenation has come full circle, like bookends to a great personal history.

But Linke takes nothing for granted, cherishing every moment on stage.

“A story is a living thing,” he says. “The more you tell it, the more refined it becomes. And if you’re fortunate enough to have enough times, enough chances to be in performance with it, you know it can get really beautifully refined simply by the act of doing it.”

For Linke, the story — like life — doesn’t stop. It just keeps flowing like water.

“It’s Time” is now playing at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through April 30 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice. $25 to $30. Call (310) 822-8392 or visit pacificresidenttheatre.com

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