Published in L.A. Weekly's Couples Issue
Kate Burton and Michael Ritchie spend a quarter of their time living in different cities, a situation that can be difficult for any couple. But they feel it shows the strength of their relationship. Besides, for the first few days of each trip, they can indulge the habits that drive each other crazy. She can leave copies of the New Yorker around the house, for instance, while he can throw away plastic bags.
"Kate will save plastic bags from the grocery, and we'll have 80 of them," Ritchie says, in a voice that meshes his Worcester, Mass., accent with the nasality of Ray Romano. "There's not going to be a moment when we have to pack 80 plastic bags. Can we go down to 10?"
The couple sits in the living room of their impossibly charming though surprisingly low-key house on a narrow, curvy road in Los Feliz. The front door and garage door are a matching light blue, and there's a yard out back, where Ritchie's domain is the potted plants and Burton oversees the garden. Running around somewhere is their excitable lab mix, Phil.
That "surprisingly" is because of their high-profile careers. Ritchie is artistic director at L.A.'s powerhouse Center Theatre Group, which controls three stages, the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas, and regularly prepares shows for Broadway. Burton is one of the country's most celebrated theater actresses, once earning two Tony nominations in the same year (2002), for Hedda Gabler and The Elephant Man.
Burton initially resisted the profession, in part because of her parents: her mother, actress and theater producer Sybil Williams (now Christopher); her father, Richard Burton; and her stepmom, Elizabeth Taylor. "As much as my parents were delightful and rambunctious, I didn't want to have their lives," she says.