Last July, I was in the gym, huffing and puffing away on the treadmill, when a stand-up comic named Roy Cruz (a guy I barely knew) approached me and asked if I would be interested in appearing in 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 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..." Roy quickly broke in, assuring me that it wasn't. The hour-long show would be "sort of an 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 several actors I knew and respected, I lowered my force field a bit. Roy 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. Now mildly intrigued, I asked which movies had already been spoken for. As Roy rattled off the list, I noticed that one of my favorite Streep movies, Out of Africa had not yet been picked.
Making a long story short, 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 having my doubts. As described, this could either be really clever or really embarrassing. I consoled myself with the knowledge that this is LA; a place where people talk about doing stuff all the time, but rarely follow through on it. 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. Instantly, my mind went to work concocting a really good lie that would 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 was being printed (with my name on it). Guilt got the best of 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'd 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 movie is a sad reminder that Hollywood simply doesn't make movies like that anymore. There are no more directors like Sydney Pollock who can spin romance, adventure and morality into an exotic, screen-filling saga. As I watched, I 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.
I also had another problem. I'd never done a show like this before. As an actor, I needed something to grab onto. Karen and I seemed to have very little in common. Finally, it occurred to me that Karen 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 nervous. There were some extremely funny people 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 of them were hilarious. Some were genuinely moving. What I was most struck by, however, 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 an exaggeration. I didn't exactly bomb, but 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. Even so, I remained suspicious.
"Rehearsal laughs" as I call them, are not to be trusted. Time has taught me that what might crack up your cohorts doesn't necessarily fly in front of an audience. In the meantime, Roy had virtually wallpapered West Hollywood with posters announcing the show. Then an article came out about Streep Tease in Variety and 24 hours later all the tickets were gone. I was both delighted and terrified. Whatever it was were doing, we were now going to be doing it in front of a full house of paying customers.
As much as I don't like admitting this, I get very nervous right before I have to perform. My assumption is that not only will I forget my lines and fall off the stage, but I'll finally be revealed as the talentless, self-deluded hack I secretly believe I am. So far in my 30 years of performing, that has yet to happen, but in my mind it remains a distinct and very real possibility. 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 and the entire evening fell together amazingly well. We managed to put on a hilarious and oddly touching little show and were rewarded with a standing ovation!
A few weeks later, the Streep Tease company reassembled for second sold-out show. Then a third. On February 6th of this year, we returned for what was supposed to be a four-week run that quickly turned into eight. We have now been extended again for another month and the audiences just keep coming. Part of the show's success comes from the extremely clever concept and the very talented guys who perform in it, but probably the biggest component is the specter of Streep herself who hovers over the stage in the form of a large banner bearing her image. I'm not sure there's ever been a film actor who has generated more goodwill while garnering such incredible accolades for their work. Meryl Streep was at the top of her game 30 years ago. And she still is.
On a personal note, I'm very glad I said yes to this. There are few things better than sharing your Saturday nights 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 big Hollywood powerbrokers are going to swoop us away to stardom. It's just one of those quirky underground comedy shows that pops up sometimes at the right moment with the right people involved. It's a good goofy romp for both the audience and the performers.
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, 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 this shameless plug: So, if you happen to live in the Los Angeles area and you're looking for a little "fun" on a Saturday night, stop by and see Streep Tease at the Bang Comedy Theatre on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease/ And if Meryl herself should happen to show up at the performance you're attending, run around to the alley behind the theatre. If you hurry, you'll get to see eight grown men jump out the back window in six seconds flat.
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. Tickets for Streep Tease: http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease/