Meryl.jpg I have just had the experience of a lifetime. You know those quizzes when you're asked to list your top five life goals? For over twenty years, the top of the list for me (apart from eating my weight in peanut butter) has been to see Meryl Streep live. Well, this weekend, I DID!

Meryl was in London for a one night performance of Hope Leaves the Theater, a radio-style play written by Hollywood's eccentric Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). I found out about this show a couple of months ago on one of my Google searches for Meryl news and booked two of the last remaining tickets, just in time for my 40th birthday.
For the past couple of months, I have been eagerly awaiting the show, not knowing what to expect, but thrilled to finally get to see Meryl Streep in person. As the day approached, I started dreaming of ways that I could get backstage to meet her and get her autograph, but not having much hope. I did make her a "London Welcomes Meryl Streep" card and sent it to the theater, care of the backstage door, but I doubt that stars ever get to see these things. Still, I packed my camera, Sharpie marker, and recently printed photo of my idol and set off for London straight after work on Friday.

Nick and I arrived in the city around 5.45, and made our way to the Royal Festival Hall. I knew where the stage door was and suggested that we go immediately there to check out the scene. There were a couple of fans with cameras, which was all the encouragement I needed to stay outside and wait for a glimpse of Hollywood royalty. While Nick went to a nearby restaurant to order us takeaway pizzas, I chatted to a couple of people outside the stage door. One trio of Japanese tourists was desperate to see Meryl, even though they had difficulty pronouncing her name. Another Australian woman had been there all day with her telephoto lens, having already seen Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Buscemi, but not the elusive Meryl. This woman worried us by telling us of another stage door on the opposite end of the theater, which the stars had been using earlier in the day, but we decided collectively to stay where we were, as there were too many security guards and limousines around, surely, for us to be in the wrong place.

As showtime grew nearer, two of the limousines sped away from the Festival Hall, presumably to collect the stars from their hotel rooms. I saw this as a good sign. Nick returned with our pizzas, but I was too nervous to eat, and instead lectured him on how to take proper photos with our camera. I shivered in the cold as a couple of clueless paparazzi (who's this Hoffman Seymour guy, anyways?) set up their tripods near me.

As we were watching each approaching car in front of the stage entrance expectantly, we hardly noticed the diminutive woman who made her way noiselessly behind us, carrying a green shopping bag. Too chic and clad in white to be a run of the mill Londoner, a couple of our group suspiciously whispered, "It's her!". I will never forget the transformation that washed across the woman's face, even though all I could see under her white hat was her unmistakable mouth. She went from a head-down determination to a wry, corner-of-the-mouth smile that could belong to no one else but the world record holder of Academy Award nominations, Meryl Streep!

Because of where I was standing, I was the first to speak to Meryl. I said something like, "I think we've blown your cover," and I asked her if she would sign her autograph. She consented, and though I have no recollection of what word or words she used, I do remember she spoke in an unexpectedly high, childlike voice as she took my Sharpie marker and wrote her signature on the bottom of her photo as I held it. Others thrust photos DVDs and notebooks at her and she signed away (using my pen), as I stood there watching her and Nick took photos. I couldn't believe it: Meryl Streep at last! Others were so desperate to talk to her and see her, and I was so happy to have had my "moment". Finally, she said in her quiet voice, "I'm late for rehearsal. They're going to kill me…" and she left the group for the stage door. I never got my pen back.

How thrilling! I turned to a woman and said, "I just got Meryl Streep's autograph!" The woman only managed to get half and autograph, Meryl St - , because someone had shoved a DVD case on top of her paper, but she was still happy. I then went to eat my pizza, shivering with cold and excitement, as the crowd behind me continued to wait for other, lesser stars.

I have an injury from falling into a cement planter as I rushed forward to take photos of John Goodman when he arrived. He was wonderfully generous with his time, talking to fans, signing autographs, and smiling at the cameras. Philip Seymour Hoffman, however, didn't have time to even acknowledge his fan base as he rushed briskly from limo to stage door without even a wave, but I have a photo of his back. Nick saw Peter Dinklage, but neither of us knew who he was at the time.

After that experience, I could have gone home a happy man, but we still had the evening's performance to see. Theater of the New Ear was two short radio plays set to music by Carter Burwell, who has composed the scores to several Hollywood films, including Fargo, Rob Roy, Velvet Goldmine, and Adaptation. The first play was called Sawbones, and starred the grumpy Philip Seymour Hoffman and the animated Steve Buscemi. It was a confusing, complicated blur that will probably be easier to understand when listening to the recording. Perhaps it was because I was star struck, but it seemed to be over in a flash, and I thought it hardly seemed worth having all these famous people fly to England to perform. Still, it was cool, and I was prepared to be grateful if Meryl got half the time they did after the interval.

Hope Leaves the Theatre, however, proved to be luxuriously long and wonderfully inventive, with enough Meryl time to satisfy even this rabid fan. Well, almost. And what a clever piece of writing and acting it was. It started with the three actors (Meryl, Hope Davis, and Peter Dinklage) taking their places on stools in front of microphones. They started an almost improvised sounding patter that was supposed to be the inner thoughts of audience members as they arrived into the theater. Each of them played a range of people, using different accents and voices. Meryl had the longest riff, playing an insecure woman worried about her "fat ass" and wondering if she might be happier being a gay man in a relationship with another man, even though she didn't really like gay men. It was incredibly funny, and she even commented on Meryl Streep up there on stage. Hope's character remained an audience member, but read from onstage, while the other two assumed their roles as passengers in a very claustrophobic elevator.

As they rode in the elevator, we discovered that Meryl's character was supposed to be going to an appointment on the 526th floor, and Peter's character kept asking her if her appointment was with him. Throughout this scene, Meryl played the disembodied voice of the elevator, whose announcement got more and more clinical sounding and personal with each passing floor: at one point, the elevator voice asked, "Is anyone listening to me? as she talked about the death of her four year old son, Robert). In the meantime, Hope, was rustling around in her handbag, coughing, and finally talking on her mobile phone to her mother, (voiced by Streep). At this point, Meryl broke character and became "Meryl Streep", who then tore into Hope, telling her that she was ruining the theater. This was vintage Kaufman (who, we were told, had killed himself in 1997, shortly before writing this play - one of many surreal untruths). Meryl strode around the stage, seeking the good lighting and ranting about the state of modern theater audiences, finally causing poor hope to leave the theater. The rest of the play became increasingly surreal and fascinating as we hear Hope board a bus (populated by black mama Meryl), get hit by a car, go to her apartment to find her cat, Mr. Darcy (Meryl), and her computer chat room lover (Peter) waiting for her. Things get more and more complex - but still easy to follow - and finally we get Peter playing a theater critic (the adult Robert, son of the elevator voice) who is writing a review of the play we are seeing while his teenage daughter (Hope) blares out a punk sounding song (sung by Meryl) in her bedroom.

Sound confusing? Hopefully we can all buy the recording some day.

As a funny side note, in the program, it said that the actors were supposed to play the following parts:

Hope Davis Pat Nixon, The Mouse, Esther, Sailor "2, Rose, Miss Alison Finnigan, Traitor, Voice, Magistrate, Becky, Woman by Side of Road, Choir of Angels
Peter Dinklage Reed, Oscar, Sheldrake, Boy #1, Tragic Monster, Man in Car, The Puppeteer, Sir Isaac Newton, Ben William of Essex, Sailor #3, Wold, Jan Wenner
Meryl Streep Sally, Kelly, Jane, The Empress of Japan, Mrs. Finnigan, Boy#2, Joan of Arc, Daisy, Teresa D'Useau, Radio Man, Sailor #1, The Killer, Broken Katie

As it transpired, none of these parts were in the play, although the actors did play a huge range of parts. The scene breakdown was also bogus, taking us to places such as The eye of a hurricane, Easter Island, now; Elevator, one thousand years later; and A field of marigolds.


If my review didn't make sense to you, you might try reading THIS ONE from Ain't It Cool News.
I doubt that anyone will have read to the end of this synopsis, but I've written it mainly for us, so that we can remember what happened. After the show, we checked into our four star hotel at Charing Cross and then went to Soho for a drink. The next day, we shopped and ate in London before returning back home to our ordinary little lives.

Next stop: Mykonos!
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