Miranda Priestley berating her magazine underlings in The Devil Wears Prada. Karen Blixen soaring high in Out of Africa. Gail Hartman pummeling a gun-wielding criminal in The River Wild.
Those cinematic moments are the basis of Streep Tease, a collection of monologues from Meryl Streep’s films, which is currently being performed by eight men at Bang, a West Hollywood theater and improv studio.
The production, the brainchild of Filipino-born comedian Roy Cruz, celebrates Streep’s most dynamic moments even as it offers a somewhat subversive take on some of her best-known work by recasting the celebrated actress with eight comedic actors. But it’s not a drag show, Cruz is quick to point out.
“I never thought of it as a drag show because it is Meryl Streep,” said Cruz emphatically. “You can camp it up but… you’d water down the tribute if you did it in drag… When the actors asked me, what are we going to wear? I said, 80 percent black and 20 percent Meryl Streep. Add whatever it is, a scarf, a wig, whatever, but I don’t want it to be drag.”
Roy Cruz, the man behind the show, said, “When the actors asked me, what are we going to wear? I said, 80 percent black and 20 percent Meryl Streep.”
The concept for Streep Tease, which is playing to sold-out audiences roughly once a month (with a performance planned for tomorrow evening and another on November 14), was an outgrowth of Cruz’s own stand-up comedy act, where he regularly performs a monologue from The Devil Wears Prada—the one where Streep’s Miranda details the trickle-down effect of the color cerulean from designers to a Casual Corner clearance bin. “It’s so funny and the way she delivers it is so slow and with such an iciness to it,” said Cruz of the piece, which opens up the production.
Cruz recruited several other actors, including Lovespring International’s Sam Pancake, Boston Legal’s David Dean Bottrell, and stand-up comedian/ The Aristocrats scene-stealer Taylor Negron, and allowed them to choose their own monologues from some of Streep’s best-known work; the pieces therefore reflect some personal connection the actor feels for the movie. The films represented run the gamut from the comedic ( The Devil Wears Prada, Death Becomes Her) to the serious ( Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa), with the high camp of thriller The River Wild thrown in for good measure.
“Taylor Negron, when I asked him to do it, he just started reciting a Sophie’s Choice monologue,” recalled Cruz. “And then Sam Pancake, when I told him about the show, he said, ‘Oh, I know Postcards From the Edge, I watch it every year on my birthday.’ It’s just fascinating to me how all of the actors responded to the concept.”
Cruz gave the Streep Tease actors the freedom not only to select their monologues but to direct them as well. “There’s no director in this show,” he said. “There’s me as the producer but I’m really more of a facilitator… It’s more like an open mic. You just show up and do your thing.”
The effect is akin to an acting showcase, with some of the pieces delivered as unadorned performance while others took liberties with the format. Bottrell, who selected Out of Africa due to his love of Danish accents, conflates the plot of the entire feature film into six side-splitting minutes, with props, on-stage deaths, and what might just be the very best flight simulation ever to appear behind the proscenium arch. (Using nothing but chairs to represent a single-propeller plane and the actors’ arms as wings, the illusion is completed by stuffed birds being dangled from a stick up above.)
Mike Rose transforms the climactic showdown in The River Wild between Streep’s Gail and the evil criminals, led by Kevin Bacon, who take her family hostage on a rafting vacation—during which they force her to navigate their raft into some dangerous rapids—into a comedic action sequence, involving water bottles spritzing the air to simulate the churning river and pink fly swatters standing in for oars.
Meanwhile, Pancake channels both Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in his scene, which depicts the mother-daughter staircase confrontation scene. Others still are more straightforward, such as Negron’s affecting monologue from Sophie’s Choice or Trent Walker’s plutonium-contaminated Silkwood piece.
But at the heart of all of the pieces, of course, is Streep herself hovering over the action. “Being a gay man, there’s always a fascination with an actress,” explained Cruz. “Classic would be Bette Davis. I remember growing up and loving Gena Rowlands with that line from Gloria, ‘Go ahead, punk.’ Why am I fascinated with Meryl Streep? If I were an actress, I’d want to have her opportunities, her talent, so I could play these wonderful characters.”
Cruz described Streep Tease as still being a work in progress, a workshopped piece that could change and grow over the next few months due to the inquires he’s received about making the production bigger. He’d also like to explore some lesser-known pieces from the Streep oeuvre, such as her 1984 World War II film Plenty, should the production’s run continue.
Streep or her representatives haven’t been in touch with Cruz about the show. (Streep’s publicist, Leslee Dart, had no knowledge of Streep Tease when contacted by The Daily Beast.) Still, Cruz insists that despite the humor, the production is very much a tribute to Streep, and he would love for her to see it someday.
But then again, maybe not. Cruz said, “If Meryl Streep shows up, we’d have to cancel the show. Can you imagine?”
Faced with the Sophie’s Choice-like dilemma of choosing his own favorite Streep film, Cruz admitted that he does have one. “It’s Still of the Night with Roy Scheider,” he said. “That’s my favorite. I think it was the first full-length Meryl Streep film that I saw. I even remember I was about 15 and I was learning how to smoke and she was smoking in that movie.”
Cruz paused before chuckling. “There are so many Meryl Streep movies.”
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.