Backstage at the Delacorte Theater during a production of Shakespeare in the Park can be a sweaty, muddy place to be — hardly the type of environment where you'd expect romantic relationships to bloom. But when you are as good looking and talented as Anything Goes breakout Colin Donnell and Lysistrata Jones star Patti Murin, you don't let the elements get in your way.
With temperatures reaching almost 100 degrees, things literally heated up between the long-time friends last summer while performing in the outdoor production of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's millennial-friendly musical adaptation of the Bard's comedy, Love's Labour's Lost. Now, a year later, the couple — who look like they could be in talks to play Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski in an NBC live telecast of Grease — share an apartment on the Upper West Side with their chiweenie rescue dog, Milo.
Donnell is currently finishing up his run in the Tony-nominated musical Violet and filming a recurring role, alongside Joshua Jackson, in the new Showtime drama "The Affair" while Murin, who wrapped up Fly By Night at Playwrights Horizons earlier this summer, is prepping for her August 11 54 Below show titled "Literally Patti Murin." Over frozen yogurt loaded with toppings at Off the Wall in Times Square, Murin and Donnell chatted with Playbill contributor Whitney Spaner about bold first moves, road trips and dressing room rendevous for the inaugural installment of Playbill.com's column A Fine Showmance.
First things first, how did you guys meet?
Colin Donnell: We've actually known each other for about eight years. We met through a mutual friend.
Patti Murin: Patrick Garrigan, who I went to college with many moons ago...
CD: ... and who I worked with in St. Louis. I actually introduced Patrick to his wife and well, we didn't know it at the time but...
PM: Yeah, we met at one of Patrick's birthday parties and became friends, because at that point we lived like six blocks away from each other and we just kind of kept in touch over the years. We weren't best of friends or anything, but it was always nice to see him when we would run into each other.
PM: Then a couple nights before rehearsal started [for Love's Labour's Lost] it was like alright…
CD: Patti had a party.
PM: Patti had a party and got a little bit drunk.
CD: She may have kissed me in the hallway.
PM: We were literally starting rehearsals two days later, and I was like, "What did I just do? I do not want a boyfriend right now," and I'd known him for so long. Everyone was always like, "Colin is so good looking, he's so hot... And I was like, "Really? I just don't see it." And then when I went back into my apartment that night my best friend was still there and I was like, "I see it now. I get it."
CD: It was funny because Patrick came over to my place before the party and he was like, "You know you guys are totally going to make out at some point during the summer," and I was like, "Nooo, no way."
PM: Cut to six hours later.
CD: And then fast forward a year.
Was it weird when you started rehearsals?
PM: We lived two blocks away from each other, so there was no avoiding anything. We'd take the subway together.
CD: It was either be cool or be really awkward.
PM: We kept it quiet for awhile; up until we started actual performances. A couple of the girls knew, and I think people were catching on, but, yeah, neither one of us was really sure if it was something we wanted to make a definite thing.
CD: We were both relatively newly single for the first time in awhile.
PM: It was like one of those surprise things — and now we live together and have a dog. You documented a pretty fun looking road trip on Twitter, after Love's Labour's Lost closed. Was that trip a turning point in your relationship?
CD: We were both going out to LA in the fall for pilot season and our plan was to give LA a go for a little bit. I don't know why I did this, but I did a long-term car rental through February, because we knew we were going to come back for pilot season in the winter as well, but I sort of committed ourselves to road tripping from LA back to NY and then back again.
PM: It was like, "This better go well."
CD: We took a really big chance on that first road trip going really well — which it did. The first one was eight days and it was pretty cool because we had some landmarks to hit. We had to be at my brother's house in Des Moines by a certain point and we told my parents we were going to be in St. Louis a day later and we had her niece's first birthday in New York so we had to be back by a certain day, but on the way back to LA we didn't see anybody we knew, so we were able to take our time a little bit.
How long was that after you started dating?
CD: The first one was the end of November, so four or five months.
PM: Even though neither of us talked about it like it was a test, it was. But when we were halfway through, I was like, "Oh yeah this is really a thing. This is good."
CD: We only got after each other once or twice. Once each way. Planning is definitely one of my weaknesses, so I can understand where that gets a little frustrating at times.
PM: But with my super Type A personality, it was a good hybrid.
Other than cross-country road trips what else do you like to do as a couple?
PM: We like eating. Eating is a really big part of our relationship.
CD: My family — my brothers and I especially — like dinners out and are really adventurous with food. Patti is — or was — known to be a fairly picky eater.
PM: I have a lot of really weird food allergies. I'm allergic to a lot of fruits and vegetables, so over the years I just stopped trying. I do much better now. I eat seafood, I eat oysters. I eat some vegetables…
CD: It's been a process of expanding. One of the first real dates we went on was at Blue Hill [at Stone Barns in Tarrytown]. I really wanted to do something special for the end of [Love's Labour's Lost], so I was like let's do a tasting menu at Blue Hill. We'll go up and spend the night, so we won't have to worry about driving. Then I thought about it for a second and I was like I should probably ask her before I just plan this — but she was up for it. We did the eight course tasting with all the wine pairings. It was amazing. Do you think it's easier to date fellow actors?
CD: The greatest thing about it is that there's an understanding on both sides of the crazy: the insecurity, the depressive side of it — and the elation about new projects. You get me and I get you.
PM: It's such a strange life and such a strange career and so it takes so much energy to try and explain that to someone else, who has no idea. I dated one guy who was an accountant, years ago, and it was just like well, "A call back is…"
CD: Once the sheen wears off it's like, "Oh it's really not that interesting is it?"
Still, it must be hard when your schedules don't match up or you have to travel.
CD: It's been a process for me — I've been thinking about myself for a long time and now I have to take the time to actually be able to spend time with her. I'm still learning, but it's something that I want to do, obviously, so it's making sure that I don't commit myself to doing a million things on my day off.
PM: It's very obvious to us that we need time together where we're not just sitting at home — because we will watch TV till the cows come home — but we need to go out to a restaurant, have a nice meal and sit and look each other in the face and say, "OK. This is where we are."
CD: I'm pretty excited. We're going out to Montauk this week, because I'm shooting ["The Affair"] there on Thursday and Friday.
PM: They put him up right on the beach and I haven't done anything summery yet, so I was like that will be nice for me to go out there for a couple days. While he's shooting I can sit and work on my 54 Below show and really start getting my songs in my head.
You are celebrating your one-year anniversary. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in your relationship so far?
PM: It's been tough. We did the LA thing and figured out that that's somewhere where we'd love to go for work but not somewhere we'll go while we're looking for work, and that was a hard period of time. It was like being in a new city and sort of starting over again, especially for me. We've been through it, we've seen the downs, so it's nice to think that if we can handle that, we'll be fine.
CD: The ups are definitely up now and the best part is: We've figured it out as a team. We helped each other figure out what we were doing and what is really important to us. I was dead set on moving to LA because I was like, "I did a TV show ["Arrow"], I'm going to be in LA now." Yeah, that worked out... [laughs] But then Violet came through and it was the best decision I could have made, and I don't think I could have made that decision without having been with Patti and talking to her about it and thinking about what was important to both of us. We both have family here — she's from here — upstate a little bit and I've got a brother here, so it was like let's go and be in the place where it's going to make both of us happy and it worked out.
PM: Yeah It was nice [this spring] when I was doing Fly by Night at Playwrights Horizons we were literally working right down the street from one another. On Saturdays, in between shows, I'd go to his dressing room and bring dinner and hang out and take a nap. It was pretty lovely. And we were like, "When is this ever going to happen again? We have to enjoy it."
What's the secret to getting through those tough times?
PM: I think we're really good at communicating.
PM: [laughs] That was pretty good. You would have thought we rehearsed it.