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Baring It All: The Actor's Life in the Solo Show

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Bea Arthur and Elaine Stritch are two crusty old broads—78 and 77, respectively—and they're not ashamed to admit it. Indeed, in their solo autobiographical Broadway shows—"Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends" and "Elaine Stritch at Liberty"—they're not shy about anything. They let it be known—loud and clear and punctuated with song—that they've lived, they've loved, they've lost, and they've moved on. No, more than that, they've endured—scarred, perhaps, but feisty as ever.

Stritch sings the classic survivor's anthem, "I'm Still Here," from Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," while Arthur makes it clear that she will not perform it, thus garnering a big laugh of recognition from the audience. She has slyly acknowledged her theme (survival); nonetheless, she is not obliged to celebrate her triumph through song. And she has made coy reference to her Broadway colleague-cum-competitor Elaine Stritch, who, as noted, does sing said song.

Despite the similarities, the two shows are very different.

Bea Arthur's is more like a classy cabaret act; a barefoot, but otherwise elegantly clad Arthur sits in an armchair and chats with her audience about her life and her career between numbers that may or may not be connected to what she has just talked about. Part of the show's charm is that there is almost no attempt to segue smoothly between moments. At various points, Arthur simply announces, "And now I'll sing." Collaborator Billy Goldenberg, who plays the piano (and resembles a gnome), sits on stage alongside her.

There are gossipy tidbits aplenty here, but most of Arthur's recollections center on her early years on Broadway, and then in Hollywood, where she became a household name in such TV mega-hits as "Maude" and "Golden Girls."

In fact, her onstage persona is akin to Maude: an aggressive liberal, with a basso voice, who is afraid of no one, tells off-color jokes (they are very funny), and makes it clear that she is in favor of gay marriage. Interestingly, she mentions her own long-term marriage, which ultimately ended in divorce (to director Gene Saks, although she never identifies him by name). But, for the most part, intimate matters are kept at bay.

"Elaine Stritch at Liberty," co-authored with John Lahr, is much more confessional in character—the scuttlebutt, comedy, and musical numbers notwithstanding. Interspersed with colorful remembrances of her relatively struggle-free theatrical career, Stritch recounts her years of inebriation, personal disappointment, and failed love affairs.

Throughout, she is stripping away the social mask, revealing her pain and angst beneath the gruff surface and professional success. (She is still remembered and admired for her performances in such shows as the 1952 revival of "Pal Joey," "Sail Away," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "Company," and, more recently, revivals of "A Delicate Balance" and "Show Boat.")

At one point, Stritch refers to herself as "an existential problem in tights"—her costume is indeed a white blouse over black tights—and explains that the show's "raison d'etre" was to give herself the chance to re-live those parts of her life that she hadn't been present for the first time around, thanks largely to the numbing effects of alcohol.

Recalling an all-night drinking binge with Judy Garland, Stritch quips (using a pitch-perfect Garland imitation), "At eight in the morning Judy said to me, 'I never thought I'd say this Elaine, but goodnight.' "

A Plethora of Personalities

Stritch and Arthur are not the only actors engaged in autobiographical one-person shows, and the genre is not new. But this season there seems to be a plethora of them being performed, both on and Off-Broadway, plus a few in cabarets, often as a prelude to a theatrical run.

Donna McKechnie's "My Musical Comedy Life" is a case in point. Although it's enjoying an extended engagement at Arci's Place, an upscale restaurant-bistro, the work is being reconceived as a full-scale theatrical piece. McKechnie is hoping to move the enhanced version, re-titled "Inside the Music," into a New York-based theatre.

But whatever the setting, the one-person show offers performer and theatregoer an unprecedented experience, she says. "It gives you the chance to establish a unique relationship with both yourself and the audience, with whom you have complete intimacy. It's empowering both ways. The audience becomes your partner. And you become theirs." And, perhaps, the encounter is all the more bonding in the retelling of one's life.

Among the many solo pieces, awash in memoir, that are up and running—or have been recently—are: John Leguizamo's "Sexaholix," Bo Eason's "Runt of the Litter," Joshua Berg's "Syndrome," Pamela Gien's "The Syringa Tree" (now starring Kate Blumberg), and Steven Berkoff's "One Man."

Admittedly, the latter consists of three monologues, only one of which is autobiographical in character (and that one is titled, appropriately enough, "Actor"). Yet the frenetic tone throughout and the progressively obsessive nature of each protagonist in the three respective monologues—all rendered in an unabashedly over-the-top physical and vocal style—are deeply personal, the British-born Berkoff maintains. "One Man," a revealing title if ever there was one, says it all.

It makes little difference if Berkoff is dramatizing the aforementioned "Actor," which he wrote, or Edgar Allen Poe's 19th-century short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," a strikingly modern look at a deranged, guilt-ridden murderer driven to kill and then compelled to disclose his own culpability. (Berkoff's third piece, "Dog," is in a league all by itself, and will be discussed in further detail shortly.)

One-person autobiographical shows run the gamut. In some, like Leguizamo's "Sexaholix," there's a central narrator (Leguizamo) recreating a host of characters with whom he has interacted over a lifetime; in others, the only character on stage is the storyteller recalling her experiences (McKechnie, Arthur, and Stritch); and, in still others, the protagonist—who may or may not be conjuring up others on stage, but still speaking in the first person—gives himself another name altogether, thus creating some distance between himself and his onstage alter ego, who is at best an aspect of himself.

An Evolving Theatrical Form

So, why are we seeing so many autobiographical solo-shows now? And, more important, do they represent a discrete—and perhaps evolving—theatrical form?

Like the others, Berkoff stresses that these shows are, first and foremost, self-created acting vehicles. But he also suggests the one-person auto-bio-drama is one of the few new and interesting theatrical happenings, born in reaction to the Brand X play (especially on Broadway or the West End) that is relentlessly dull or "bourgeois," to use Berkoff's term.

And, as deadly as many of the plays are (from his standpoint), the acting style—naturalism—is even worse to Berkoff. "Naturalistic acting is equivalent to a 10-year-old playing the scales on the piano. It's all right, but it's only the first step."

Clearly, all Berkoff's charges against mainstream plays can be leveled against the solo show as well, as he acknowledges. But, if nothing else, with the one-person show there's a higher level of risk-taking on the actor's part—because he's out there alone. The safety net is gone. And that sense of danger, which potentially gives rise to a new voice, is intrinsic to Berkoff's aesthetic.

Solo shows have few collaborative elements. The writer, director, and actor are usually one and the same. And the performer is responsible for everything on stage, often bringing to life other characters as well as establishing a sense of time and place. Sets and costumes are modest if not non-existent. The actor has to keep all the balls in the air, usually for an intermissionless 90-minutes.

Nevertheless, one-person shows share elements with the traditional play. Within the framework of a conventional storyline structure—with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end—the protagonist has taken a journey and come out at the other end. Themes have been articulated and a universe invoked.

Elaine Stritch dryly insists that her piece, "At Liberty," is a "play about an actress' life—mine. I read for the lead and got it. This is a show with one woman. I hate the term 'a one-woman show.' That sounds like a circus." She reiterates, " 'At Liberty' is a play."

One thing seems certain: The one-person autobiography is a form of performance that testifies to the notion that everyone (especially an actor) has a stage-worthy story that is interesting—ideally cathartic and entertaining—to a paying audience, while at the same time helping the actor come to terms with his or her demons.

The underlying belief seems to be that the writer-actor (and the audience) will be better off for his having disclosed-cum-dramatized some private pain or chaos. Curiously, no matter how bleak the piece, an element of optimism is at play here. By virtue of enacting his tale, the actor has gained mastery of whatever it is that's troubling him—given it form and structure—and thus emerged triumphant, especially if he presents it well.

Mirroring the Culture

What's striking about many of these one-person auto-bios is how they mirror a confluence of cultural sensibilities and theatrical traditions.

Offstage, people are encouraged to air their feelings. The assumption is that it is good for them to do so (even if they don't know it). In theatrical circles, "honesty" and "truth" are buzzwords and, among a fair number of theatre practitioners, achieving "vulnerability" in performance is a goal. Many acting classes are "touchy-feely" and it's not at all uncommon for drama teachers to encourage their students to write autobiographical one-person pieces as exercises in self-disclosure. (Of course, they also provide the opportunity to learn how to forge discrete characters on stage, make smooth transitions, and maintain an audience's interest.)

Interestingly, both "The Syringa Tree" and "Runt of the Litter" were launched in the Los Angeles-based acting class taught by Larry Moss, who ultimately directed each piece on stage. Similarly, Charlayne Woodard, the writer-actress behind three well-respected autobiographical solo pieces—none of which is running in New York at the moment—was first spurred on to do so at an Actors Studio workshop.

Quite a few casting directors are also advocating the aesthetics of "getting to know you," pointing out that they are especially interested in meeting the real man/woman behind the actor's persona. That's not to say they want the auditioning actor to present an autobiographical monologue. But they do want to get a sense of the actor's inner life. In some instances, that may be of greater relevance than the actor's acting skills, at least at the initial interview.

Celebrating Truth

In degrees, the writer-actors we interviewed also celebrate the diamond-in-the-rough: the unvarnished person beneath the glossy public face.

"When you tell the truth, you can't lose," proclaims Stritch. "Go for it! Secrets are dangerous! I wrote 'At Liberty' to get something off my chest. I couldn't stand the façade anymore. I wanted to get to know me. I missed Elaine. The title, 'At Liberty,' means at liberty to be and show who I am."

Adds Berkoff, "The best acting is always autobiographical."

Berkoff is talking metaphorically and literally. He reaffirms that he is not interested in seeing realistic presentations on stage where the walking wounded gather to confess a deviant moment or two.

Berkoff's notions of self-disclosure on stage border on the Grand Guignol; his is a world that marries mime, vaudeville, British music hall, and plain old stand-up comedy for the purpose of unleashing private and collective comic hell. He says, contrary to what one might believe, that pyrotechnical theatrics do not mask personal truths; they reveal them.

He also celebrates the society's festering underbelly, as much as he may abhor the way it surfaces on occasion. In his hilariously demented piece, "Dog," he presents a love-hate relationship—it's downright kinky—between a U.K.-style skinhead sporting a Union Jack T-shirt, and his dog, a snarling pit bull, both of whom Berkoff plays.

The male biped, who is about as verbal as the pooch—he mostly communicates through grunts that sometimes resemble words—is never happier than when he has consumed 45 beers, been part of a rampaging mob at a soccer match, destroyed everything in his path, and then puked all over himself. "That was fun," the macho man beams.

Berkoff makes it clear he finds something fabulous in the explosive and anarchistic fury of the underclass, insisting that the imbibing lout in "Dog" (and perhaps the dog as well) has the spirit of a true artist, and that "someone like Van Gogh would love him."

Berkoff continues, "They [plastered roustabout and dog] are symbols of the seething molten energy lying beneath the surface of English society that celebrates putrid middle-class behavior, with its hypocrisy and stilted, puerile images, as exemplified in West End plays."

Actress Kate Blumberg's universe could not be more removed from Berkoff's. For starters, her piece, "The Syringa Tree" dramatizes the poignant coming-of-age story of a young white girl in South Africa. Although Blumberg inhabits 24 characters, including the narrator Lizzie, her brand of theatre is low-key and, within the convention of enacted tales, realistically performed.

More to the point, Blumberg didn't write it. Nonetheless, she insists it's morally and theatrically right that she share biographical experiences with writer-actress Pamela Gien.

"Like Pam, I am South-African born and was raised in a home of privilege," Blumberg recalls. "I, too, had a very close relationship with my black nannies. So did my parents. The nannies were part of our family, yet they weren't.

"The South Africa Pam describes is so real to me—the sights, the smells, the feel of the place," Blumberg continues. "Also, the way she describes leaving South Africa. Pam's Lizzie walks down the runway and says she'll never come back. When I, Kate, walk down that runway, I'm never sure if I'll come back. My emotional commitment to this piece is so intense because I come out of the same world. I have a personal stake in theatregoers knowing that South African life, as awful as it was with apartheid, was not simply what they saw on TV."

Personal Philosophy, Temperament, and Circumstance

Blumberg's gig is clearly different from the others on at least two fronts. As noted, she did not write the piece, so her connection to it, no matter how intensely felt, is coincidental. Secondly, she had the good fortune to be cast in "The Syringa Tree."

Not to belabor the point, but one frequent explanation for the boom in solo pieces is the shortage of good roles—indeed, any roles—and the fact that many actors today are no longer willing to sit by helplessly, waiting for the next part to roll around. By designing their own shows, they give themselves acting vehicles that display their talents, hone their craft, and/or (depending on their success hitherto) keep their names in the public eye.

Take Bea Arthur; her TV-star status notwithstanding, she wryly comments during her show (by way of explanation), "As you know, there are wonderful parts for women my age." She casts a knowing hard eye at the audience, which laps it up, laughing with approval.

Stritch, on the other hand, makes no such admission on stage; and, in an offstage interview, insists that she has rarely had a dry period. Age, she says, has not stood in her way. "At Liberty" was forged for other reasons entirely.

Donna McKechnie, who is perhaps best known for originating the role of Cassie in "A Chorus Line," testifies to the age problem (not in her show, but privately), suggesting that while she has had no difficulty landing starring roles in regional revivals, as a mature woman she faces barriers. But age, she argues, is only part of the problem.

"The great musical parts [for older actresses] are out there, but you can't count on them. I've done 'Gypsy' and 'Company' and they were wonderful, but what I'd really like to do is originate a part. Years ago, they'd write great parts for a particular musical star, but that's no longer happening." She adds, "In any case, after a certain point, it's so hard to get a part that encompasses all your skills as a performer or embodies all your experiences as a person. So I created my own piece to fill that need."

Berkoff, who, by his own admission, is compulsively driven to act, also refuses to be a "passive recipient," lolling about, hopeful that a gig will pop up. The fact that he has an extensive resume in theatre and film (starring as the most villainous of villains in "Octopussy," "Rambo," and "Beverly Hills Cop," among others) has not given him the stream of roles or star status he might have hoped for, despite his large following.

Writing his own one-person piece provides him with the chance to act, to show what he can do in a way that a play written by someone else cannot, and, most central, to control his destiny (well, within parameters).

Working alone, he underscores, eliminates the problem of collaborating with writers, actors, and directors who are neither likeable (from his point of view) nor aesthetically or philosophically in synch with him. In a fundamental way, the one-person show that he writes, directs, and stars in solves the problems while conjuring his particular brand of larger-than-life, physical theatre that celebrates lunatics, monsters, and "working-class rage."

A Visceral Verisimilitude

Joshua Lewis Berg has no particular interest in "working-class rage," but the subject of his semi-autobiographical one-man show, "Syndrome"—written by Kirk Wood Bromley but based on Berg's own life stories—certainly pushes the envelope in terms of theatre. The central character is a young actor who, like Joshua Lewis Berg, has Tourette's syndrome—a neurological disorder that leads to repetitive gestures, tics, and vocal outbursts, the latter characterized by inchoate gurgles, squeaks, rhymes, and eloquently lewd content.

One of Berg's goals in pulling this show together, he writes in a program note, was not only to bring "a broader understanding of a much misunderstood and sensationalized disease but…to allow the audience to feel what it is like to live with Tourette and its numerous physical, psychological, and neurological symptoms, side effects, and consequences. The syndrome itself is another character in this play. More than a documentary or medical drama, it is a very personal play."

He continues, "I am used to stifling my tics when I act and am most comfortable doing so. With this production, I am required to act ticcing, which is a new and intimidating experience for me. As I perform, the tics I put on and my own tics become one at some point. This is both frightening and exciting, and makes this show a performance unlike I have ever done and, I imagine, unlike anything ever seen."

Putting the theatrical aesthetic aside, Berg admits with total candor that he hopes his oddball show is an attention-getting device that boosts his career, unlike all the other credits on his resume that have added up to nothing. After appearing in numerous plays, films, and television shows, he still had no representation and was not a member of any of the actor's unions. In a determined effort to change his status, Berg created "Syndrome," and raised the money to produce the show himself. Members of his family are also listed as producers.

Berg, who is now 31, succeeded in part. With his new Off-Broadway credit, he became a member of Actors Equity Association. He also garnered a very favorable review in The New York Times.

"Unfortunately," he reports, "I sent out over 200 mailings, including the Times review, to agents all over the city. And not one of them showed up. I am still looking for representation!"

Berg may not have landed an agent yet, but, as of this date, his show has been booked in a London theatre.

A Vision of Theatre and an Actor's Life

The actor's life is touched upon in several of these solo shows. And, in light of their autobiographical content, it's not really surprising. Berg, for example, talks about what it's like for an actor with Tourette's syndrome, but he could easily be describing the mixed-bag experience for any actor playing a role.

His onstage persona, named Egon, earnestly notes that when he is acting, and thus claiming himself on the most profound level, he loses the very thing—his syndrome—that most defines him.

Acting is indeed a convoluted process, Berg suggests, and nowhere more pointedly than in his very funny send-up of an Oscar-acceptance speech, wherein he both mocks and pays homage to his fantasies while parodying the peculiar nature of his show. It's double-talk that resonates.

"I'd like to thank myself for giving me so many wonderful opportunities to use in my task of transforming myself into what I am not."

Arthur, Stritch, and McKechnie also talk about their lives in the theatre. Among the three performers, however, McKechnie acknowledges the most setbacks.

Indeed, an ongoing motif in her piece—which traces the experiences of a young actress who foolishly buys into Hollywood's romantic notions of love, life, and theatre—is the contrast between dreams and reality, and how the former always disappoint. Dreams rarely reach fruition, whereas reality, she implies, doesn't hold out much hope anyway.

At the same time, McKechnie says in her piece that the theatre—as literal place and metaphor—has always been her only real escape, precisely because of its fantastical element, for good and for bad. In one of her more amusing and sardonic anecdotes, she recounts responding to a casting notice in Back Stage seeking "a Donna McKechnie type," and being passed over for the role.

Elaine Stritch brings to life an actress who has worked steadily, was always recognized as a big talent, but somehow saw the major accolades elude her. "The good news and the bad news," she declares in her inimitable hard-bitten style: "I have a terrific speech for the Tony Awards." Beat. "It's been ready for 45 years."

There is randomness in theatre; still, she suggests that her defeats were, at least in part, of her own making. Her tippling was a contributor, of course, and then, as she tells it, there was her inability to edit herself (which probably has more than a bit to do with the booze).

She continues to berate herself for her behavior at the audition for "Golden Girls," where she was, ironically enough, up for the role of Dorothy—which ultimately went to Bea Arthur. But instead of reading the script that was handed to her, she felt free to sprinkle the dialogue with expletives, thus seriously alienating the head writer.

More nettlesome to her than any blown audition, she emphasizes, is the way theatre has provided her the perfect excuse to avoid life. Theatre became her life, a facsimile of life. "I could seduce an audience," she quips, "but I had nothing to confess to the priest."

The centerpiece of Berkoff's "One Man" is the monologue, "Actor," an outrageously funny and anguished peek into the life of a struggling actor who is obsessively looking for work and validation, and getting no place very quickly.

Employing Marcel Marceau's "marche sur place," Berkoff evokes a man on a treadmill and brings the metaphor to life as he strides on, greeting fellow actors (all of whom are doing better than he is), losing girlfriends he never noticed in the first place, fighting with his aging parents about his career—"I don't want a job. I'm an 'act-tour!' "—and defending himself to his agent with the plaintive wail, "I don't exude hate."

Devouring himself with unrealized ambition, Berkoff's frantic thespian curses everyone he knows, only to be groveling the next moment. Throughout, he's honing Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy—his life is a series of endless auditions, after all—while growing increasingly desperate as the speech he intones unwittingly raises questions about his own tortured journey.

Universe, Theme, Persona, and Journey

In his three monologues, Berkoff creates an expressionistic nightmare world, with each piece becoming progressively free-associative, raw, and grotesque. There are momentum and connection; there's also thematic unity beyond the obvious. Despite the laugh-out-loud humor, these pieces are tied together by a pervasive sadness; all Berkoff's characters have been left out somehow. They are isolated and lonely, most especially the abused and abusive dog. He may be a killer, but he is innocent.

Berkoff adds, "These characters are very suppressed. And if you're suppressed long enough, it's going to come out in a deviant way. They all suffer from something that makes them monsters—it's what creates art."

Bo Eason's "Runt of the Litter" also considers the killer instinct; not in theatre, but in the world of football, which could serve as a metaphor for theatre, or, indeed, any other savagely competitive venture where the outcome defines the player's identity and sense of self-worth.

Eason is a former football player himself, and "Runt" tells the story of a young man's determination to beat his older brother on the football field. It is a tale of sibling rivalry gone terribly awry; it's also about the brutality of the game itself, vividly dramatized in a kind of ritualized primitive dance that Eason's alter ego, Jack Henry, performs before the big match. "Runt" is a bone-chilling account that brings to mind "Death of a Salesman."

Jack Henry has won the game and beaten—badly injured—his brother on the field, but for what purpose? It's a pyrrhic victory, no doubt. Still, he is determined to celebrate. The play closes with Jack Henry grandstanding; he poses, legs astride, hands placed defiantly on hips, and bellowing with triumph, yet producing a joylessly hollow lament.

And then there's John Leguizamo's very entertaining "Sexaholix," which manages to marry old-fashioned sentiment with hip stand-up comedy, and is overflowing with broad ethnic stereotypes and raunchy allusions. Although "Sexaholix" resides galaxies away from all the other solo acts, it, too, boasts themes, structure, and a clearly defined central character. In this instance, it's a horny, much beleaguered ne'er-do-well recounting of his trip to adulthood, with no shortage of kooks along for the ride.

Leguizamo (or, more precisely, the Leguizamo character he plays) has grown up, assumed responsibilities, and found intergenerational love. He reconciles with Dad, a jolly buffoon, and witnesses the birth of his son.

The central character in each of the solo shows has taken a journey of sorts, including Bea Arthur, although, in her case, it may be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, after decades on the West Coast, she has come home, reaffirmed old friendships, figuratively speaking, and reconnected with her New York theatre roots.

Stritch has definitely traveled a distance. Despite the valedictory feeling of her show, there's also a note of hope—she's looking forward. Sitting on a stool and addressing the audience, she thanks all the significant and, perhaps, not so significant people in her life. It could be the Tony speech she never delivered. Still, she has met her demons head on and freed herself from them.

Stritch is ready to face the future. "That's not to say there won't be moments of weakness," she comments in a private conversation. "But then," she asserts, "living and going out there alone, doing my show night after night, is not for sissies!," paraphrasing Bette Davis' quip about old age.

Survival is a theme in almost all of the shows. At the end of McKechnie's, for example, she sings the classic song of personal vindication, "If My Friends Could See Me Now" from "Sweet Charity." Interestingly, however, she dedicates it to the memory of the late Gwen Verdon, who is most identified with the song. McKechnie celebrates her own victory and pays tribute to a star. She's also passing the torch, she says.

"It's traditional in theatre to remember those who came before you, to make them real to others, and keep their names alive. And what better way to do that than by passing on what they've taught you to the next generation of theatre artists?"

The Audiences and the Challenges

So who comes to one-person shows? That really depends on who's performing and if there's a built-in audience by virtue of his/her name. McKecknie, for example, suspects that she shares a common audience with Stritch and Arthur.

"We all attract audiences who are interested in theatre and theatre people. I'm struck by the age range in my audience," she continues. "There are the older people who saw me years ago, and there are also younger people—acting students—who never saw, but heard about me."

For lesser-known actors, bringing in the crowds may be problematic, especially if their subject matter is alien. Eason recalls having no trouble finding a producer (Manhattan Class Company). But attracting an audience in New York City for a show about a football player growing up in a family that values athletic achievement above everything else was another matter.

"But when they did come, they liked it," says Eason. "Many admitted they had never really thought about football players at all. And more than one person said he'd never look at a football game the same way again."

Undoubtedly, whoever the audience is and however admiring, solo acts are daunting for the performer, with the danger of self-indulgence heading the list.

Even Steven Berkoff, who revels in antic high jinks on stage, concedes the performance can distract from the story, and so it's necessary on occasion to tone it down a bit.

Says McKecknie: "I worry about taking myself too seriously. I don't want to become boring, icky, and self-conscious. In a one-person show—especially in an autobiographical piece—it's very important to get the audience on your side, to like you!"

Perhaps most problematic is the quagmire surrounding issues of disclosure; just how much should you tell an audience about yourself, your family, and/or celebrities you've known and loved—or, more usually, hated?

Arthur and Stritch dish the dirt, but, in actuality, their gossipy recollections are not really damaging to anyone. The skewered notables have been skewered before; the two stars offer nothing new or earth-shattering.

Stritch's Marlon Brando was, as rumor has it, an unrepentant stud (she should know, she dated him); so was the adolescent Tony Curtis evoked by Arthur. But so what? Would either of the stars be offended? In any case, they are public figures and, arguably, fair game.

But what happens when you are describing private people who are of no consequence to anyone short of their own immediate circle?

The writer-actors we interviewed acknowledge the mined territory. Joshua Berg admits that he invited his family to vet his "Syndrome" script before he put it up, lest they be offended.

Bo Eason faced a similar dilemma, although his solo piece, "The Runt of the Litter," is far more fictionalized than many of the others. "What's biographically true or not isn't relevant. The piece has to work as drama," he says. "But, at the same time, once there is any suggestion that the piece has biographical elements—and it makes no difference that I call myself Jack Henry—there is the real danger of hurting someone.

"My parents have not seen the show, but they read the script and said they were okay with it. My brother was startled. He said he didn't realize that I 'felt that way.' "

Eason's next step is turning his piece into a screenplay. The good news is that it has already been commissioned by Castle Rock Productions. Others we chatted with are in a holding pattern. Some may do another solo show, and some may move back to their old haunts as actors playing fictionalized characters in plays that someone else has written.

Remarks Stritch, only half-kidding, "I can't wait to get into costume and façade and rest a little."

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