Randomly, after having just seen her on the street the other day, I found out the gifted Laurie Metcalf was participating in a reading of some of The Other Place, a new play by Sharr White in which she'll star at the Lucille Lortel here in Manhattan starting March 11.
I showed up at the Drama Bookshop on W. 40th to find a group of theater nerds milling none-too-casually near the door to the basement, where the reading would happen. Finally, they let us down, and while I was the third person to find a seat, I was also "that guy" who insisted on holding a seat for my arriving-late partner. No one was freaking out about it, so they must've take "a Valium...like a normal person!"
The set-up was Metcalf and her handsome playwright reading a brief but extremely intriguing scene from The Other Place, following by Metcalf and handsome actor Chris Stack reading two scenes from White's Six Years.
In person, Metcalf looks almost unchanged from the days when she was the '80s/'90s version of Jane Lynch—a hysterically funny sidekick who could steal any scene in any show from anybody. She's got to be a health nut with that rockin' body and overall youthful air. That she has a sexy younger husband—Matt Roth—might help!
The reading of The Other Place has me stoked to see it. In it, Metcalf's character not only gives but also narrates a speech in which she's attempting to sell a crowd on a medical product, but she becomes distracted by an out-of-place young woman in a yellow bikini. Her disdain was dryly hilarious; she even referred to the woman as a prostitute with comic hostility, calling to mind Desperately Seeking Susan's Leslie Glass.
Next, Metcalf and actor Chris Stack read parts of two scenes from Six Years, a challenging play about a man coming to grips with a harrowing experience in World War II. It wasn't as intriguing and Metcalf's part was much smaller, but it had equal parts affecting drama (Stack's character's realization that a man he's speaking with couldn't be the guy he thought it was because the man died in the war—in front of his eyes—is haunting) and painful humor, such as when Metcalf's uncomfortable pick-up dumps her surprisingly unbalanced date, standing and saying, "Just pretend I'm coming back. They won't stare as much."
Afterward, there was a brief question-and-answer session. I asked Metcalfe what drew her to this play and she gave me a great, thoughtful answer—I am the second question here:
I liked her answer to the question about TV vs. stage acting, in which she made clear she prefers the latter. She came across as a very secure, contented artist.
With question time over, we went upstairs to buy some of the work in order to get it signed and I bumped into my younger cousin, who happens to be a talented actor himself—Dustin Charles:
It was great catching up with him (and talking as two of the few liberals in my entire family), but then I had to figure out what to buy to have signed. I've never attended an event without buying whatever it was that was being sold, but this was tough because The Other Place isn't in print yet and they didn't have readily available copies of something like November, in which Metcalf starred. So I settled on Six Years and went to the table. Despite a full house for the reading, very few people stayed for autographs, which was perplexing to me—I would have thought it might be the other way around considering Metcalf's status on one of TV's most beloved sitcoms.
She was lovely, and I was a total fanboy, or felt like it. While White was signing his play, I told her I was disappointed I didn't have a play for her to sign but she pointed out that the store had copies of Purple Heart and The Infidel by Bruce Norris, which actually had her on the cover. I nabbed it and she assured me they're good plays.
I told her I was dying to see the new play, but then had to mention she was sorely missed at last year's 25th anniversary Desperately Seeking Susan screening. She looked at me blankly, so I said, "Were your earns burning?" She replied, "I didn't even know about it—was it in New York?" I can't imagine she wasn't invited, but it was a little awkward. I told her that it was then asked, "Is Desperately Seeking Susan a fond memory for you?"
She nodded and said, "Yes—that was my very first movie." But she played it pretty close to the vest as to just how great an experience it was. She indulged me in that, though, which I appreciated. I asked for a photo, which she happily granted, standing up and putting her arm around me. I thanked her, shook her hand and went back to bemoan the state of the country with my cousin before we took off as the store was closing.
Be sure to check out the play—tickets are on sale now—because it sounded unique and also lots of fun.
BONUS: Above, here's Metcalf in a beyond-deadpan 1981 SNL piece of reporting.