Last July, I was in the gym, huffing and puffing away on the treadmill, when a guy I barely knew approached me and asked if I would be interested in appearing in a show he wanted to produce at one of the local comedy theatres. The premise, he explained, would be an evening of monologues from Meryl Streep movies - all performed by men. I instantly laughed. It was certainly an original idea and God knows there are plenty of Streep movies to choose from. However, having been burned a few times in my semi-illustrious career, my guard sprang up.
“Is this a drag show?” I asked cautiously. “Because if it is, I don’t really think…” My friend quickly broke in, assuring me that it wasn’t. The hour-long show would be “sort of homage" to a great actor; the key words here being “sort of.” Not yet convinced, I asked my next key question: “Who else is in it?” After recognizing the names of three actors I knew and respected, my force field began to lower a bit. My friend continued his pitch, explaining that each of the eight performers would choose their own monologue. There would be no director and the show would have a casual “open mike” feeling. Mildly intrigued, I then asked which movies had already been spoken for. As my friend rattled off the list, I noticed that one of my favorite Streep movies, “Out of Africa” had not yet been picked.
For a millisecond, my resistance slipped, and I found myself agreeing to appear in the show (tentatively entitled “Streep Tease”). By the time I got home, I was already wondering what the hell I had just agreed to. As described, this could either be really clever or really embarrassing. I consoled myself with the knowledge that this is L.A.; a place where people are always talking about doing stuff, but rarely follow through on it. In fact, within a few weeks, I’d totally forgotten about “Streep Tease” – that is until I received an email announcing the first rehearsal. A knot formed in my stomach. My mind instantly went to work, concocting a really good lie that could get me out of this. However, before I could come up with one, I discovered that not only had a first rehearsal been scheduled, but a theatre had been booked and a poster (with my name on it) was being printed. Guilt overtook me. Apparently I was going to be appearing as the Countess Karen Blixen, like it or not.
Sucking up my guts, I rented “Out of Africa” and watched it a couple of times. I’d forgotten how much I loved it. A sprawling epic in which the plains and mountains of Kenya almost manage to steal the movie from Streep and her co-star, Robert Redford, the film is also a sad reminder that Hollywood simply doesn’t make movies like that anymore. There are no more directors like Sydney Pollock and no studios who would dare finance such an eye popping, romantic saga. As I watched, I also started wondering how the hell I was going to break off a small chunk of this huge movie and have it make sense on a tiny stage on Fairfax Avenue.
There was also another problem. As an actor, I needed something to grab onto. Oddly, Karen and I seemed to have very little in common. Finally, it occurred to me that the Baroness Blixen (AKA Isak Dinesen) was a storyteller as am I. Once that penny dropped, I started forming an idea that I hoped would fill, but not exceed the six-minute time limit imposed on each performer.
When I arrived at the first rehearsal I was a little anxious. There were some extremely funny performers involved and the last thing I wanted was to stink up the joint. One by one, each guy got up and staggered through his piece. Some were hilarious. Some were genuinely touching, but what I was most struck by was how much affection for the iconic Ms. Streep had been woven into each piece. Feeling more confident, I trooped up onto the stage -- where I promptly bombed. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was clear that easily a third of the piece didn’t work. As I drove home, I started rewriting it in my head; streamlining it and bringing it more in line with the dignity that Streep had infused into her character in the film. At the next rehearsal, I killed. Still, I remained suspicious.
Time has taught me that “Rehearsal laughs” are not to be trusted. What may crack up your overworked cohorts doesn’t necessarily fly in front of an audience. In the meantime, my friend who had dreamed up this little entertainment had been working overtime, virtually wallpapering West Hollywood with posters announcing the show. Then an article came out in Variety and within 24 hours, every ticket was sold. Whatever it was were doing, we were going to be doing it in front of a full house of paying customers.
The first performance of “Streep Tease” remains, for the most part, a blur. I remember walking up on stage. I remember the lights in my face and I remember the first laugh; a laugh I wasn’t expecting to get. After that, it was (like all performances should be) a rollercoaster ride – scary, incredibly fun and over way-too-soon. Luck was with us. The entire evening fell together amazingly well. We managed to put on a hilarious and oddly touching little show. Word spread.
A few weeks later, the “Streep Tease” company reassembled for another show. It also sold out. Then another. Same story. Last Saturday, we opened a four-performance run that will take us to the end of February. There have been a few cast changes and a little backstage drama, but the latest incarnation of the show seemed to satisfy the ticket-holders in a big way! On a personal note, I’m very glad I said yes to this. There are few things better than sharing the stage with people who can crack you up, over and over again. I doubt that “Streep Tease” will be moving to Broadway anytime soon; nor do I suspect that any Hollywood powerbrokers are going to walk in the door and swoop us away to stardom -- Although, wouldn’t that be great if it happened?? It’s just one of those quirky underground comedy shows that pops up at the right moment with the right people involved. It's remains a hilarious, but heartfelt tribute to an amazingly talented performer by a few of her funny, but less-famous fans.
It’s strange how often those of us in show business lose track of why we’re in it. Somehow, in the crush of scrambling for our next job (or obsessing over our IMDB rating) we tend to lose sight of the only logical reason to be doing this with your life: Because it’s fun. It’s fun to entertain people. I’d now like you to notice how seamlessly I segue into the following plug...
So, if you’re looking for a little fun on any Saturday night in February, please stop by and see “Streep Tease” at the Bang Comedy Theatre in Hollywood. If you'd like tickets, I'd suggest you act fast! http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease/ And if Meryl herself should show up, run around to the alley behind the theatre. If you hurry, you’ll get to see eight grown men jumping out the back window.
Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv