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Men Take On Meryl In “Streep Tease”

September 1, 2009

streep-teaseThere is no denying the incredible star power of Meryl Streep. Not only is she the third highest earning actress in Hollywood, and not only has the “Streep Effect” popularized everything from ABBA albums to tourism in Kenya, but she’s also simply one of the most versatile actors working today. As The Independent recently wrote, Streep has spent the past three decades creating A-list, memorable performances, still holding her own in an industry that is notoriously brutal on women over the age of 40. And that’s no small feat.

So it’s no wonder that her work is loved and respected by a wide variety of people — including men.

On Saturday, September 5, a group of (male) actors in Los Angeles will take their admiration of Streep to the next level. bang. studio will host “Streep Tease: An Evening of Meryl Streep Monologues Performed by an All-Male Company.” Though the title couldn’t be more self-explanatory, I can’t help but wonder what this performance will actually involve, and whether it will ultimately result in a real tribute to Streep’s career or a big joke at the thespian’s expense.

Variety explains the premise in a bit more detail:

The event is the brainchild of actor-comedian Roy Cruz, who is producing and performing in the show with fellow thesps Taylor Negron, Sam Pancake, Steve Hasley, David Dean Bottrell, Eddie Sanchez, Mike Rose and Trent Walker.

The reasons behind their scene choices are many.

Bottrell, probably best known for his recurring role on “Boston Legal,” chose a monologue from “Out of Africa” because he loves the Danish accent.

Cruz will perform a staple from his stand-up routine, Streep’s lecture from “Prada” on the color cerulean.

“The writer did a wonderful job at concisely explaining how a color like cerulean ends up in department stores,” says Cruz.

Pancake chose “Postcards From the Edge” because Shirley MacLaine’s character, Doris Mann, is the mother he always wanted. Besides, he’s memorized the entire pic.

Negron is doing “Sophie’s Choice” because he loves the writing in both the novel and the film.

And that’s an underlying theme of the entire event.

With this information in mind, I have very mixed feelings about “Streep Tease.” On one hand, it sounds like a fun, harmless night of theatre. It also sounds like a potentially fascinating night of theatre, considering the possibility for unique and unconventional gender play. And, as a huge Streep fan, I can’t fault these actors for admiring her work. If imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery, then this is nothing more than an authentic tribute to the woman and the characters she has embodied.

On the other hand, I wonder what the intent of this type of performance is meant to be. Is it really only to honor the career of Meryl Streep? When looking at the reasons behind the monologues chosen, as described in Variety, only one of the four listed actually has to do directly with Streep’s acting (being David Dean Bottrell‘s rendition of a scene from Out of Africa). The other choices have more to do with the writing quality of the monologues written — certainly not a bad reason to want to perform a particular monologue, but it is strange that the evening is about Meryl Streep’s acting and only one of the four monologue choices listed in Variety claims to be based on anything related to Streep’s original performance.

Additionally, I wonder if the proper degree of thought and preparation has gone into this project to avoid gender stereotyping and sexist caricatures. The show’s title certainly contains objectifying undertones. And though there’s much more going on in each of Streep’s incredibly nuanced performances than the fact that she is a woman, I have to wonder if the purpose of only choosing men to act out her monologues — as opposed to any actor, regardless of gender, who felt so inclined — is for the simple gimmick of having a man imitate being a woman. It’s hard to say whether the acting in this event will be based more on Streep’s technique than her gender signifiers, and that concerns me. It’s one thing to really honor and pay tribute to someone one admires, but it’s something else entirely to use that as an excuse to act out another person’s perceived gender expression in broad strokes. At that point, it doesn’t matter that the theme of the evening is Meryl Streep at all — it could be any woman, as long as it is easy for the audience to identify the source material as having been created by a woman.

I’m all for men using theatre to channel and perform womanness, and vice versa. I love drag performance, and the unconventional ways in which drag can be used. But no performance, however trivial or harmless on the surface, is above critique. And for theatre to truly stand up to critique, I believe it needs to be aware of its own intent. I’d much rather see live theatre with a clear motivation with which I disagreed or took offense than a performance that hasn’t taken the time to fully understand its own purpose, or one that isn’t aware of its problematic elements. I applaud these actors for taking a risk — Streep’s acting can’t be easy to effectively emulate — and for dedicating a night to pay tribute to one of the greatest actors working today. I only hope that they have also taken the time to step back from what they are doing to really think it through and decide how to address any underlying gender stereotyping or cheap humor that may have slipped into their re-imaginings, under the radar. Because all of the participating actors self-identify as men, they each have to make some big choices as to how they are going to translate, on stage, work that was originally embodied by a woman on film. I only hope — for everyone’s sake — that they don’t resort to the easy way out.

(Interested in seeing “Streep Tease,” but don’t live anywhere near Los Angeles? You can watch it live, courtesy of bang. studio’s webcam.)

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