“We all think it’d be wonderful to be praised as much as Meryl Streep is, but actually I think it must be a nightmare.” So said “Angels in America” writer Tony Kushner at the latest opportunity to heap praise on Meryl Streep, the 50th anniversary gala of the O’Neill Theater Center.
One of Streep’s earliest gigs out of Yale was at the O’Neill’s venerable National Playwright Conference, the program that launched the careers of big-name scribes including August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein and John Patrick Shanley, another of the night’s speakers paying tribute to the O’Neill and to Streep at Gotham’s Edison Ballroom.
Shanley directed the actress in the screen version of his play “Doubt,” in which she played a nun. “It’s extremely appropriate for Meryl to play a nun because, and no offense to her husband, she kind of is a nun,” Shanley said. “She lives a life of service. It’s just nice to see somebody behaving so well for so long.”
He went on, “They’re gonna show a little clip from my film now. Random clip. She’ll be good.”
Tracy Letts, the “August: Osage County” writer on a night off from his acting job in Broadway’s “The Realistic Joneses,” was there too, calling her his acting hero. Then “Frozen” Oscar winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (both alums of the O’Neill) performed a catchy tune in her honor. “We sing ‘Mamma Mia!’ in our sleep / We wanna be Meryl Streep / Funny and smart and deep,” they crooned.
And then it was time for the woman of the hour to speak. “I feel like I’m at the funeral,” she cracked. “So I’m really happy. Usually you don’t get to be there.”
She continued, “Being an artist is the opportunity to learn all your life,” and then followed up the inspirational sentiment with a more practical warning. “Everybody here tonight, I’m gonna use stuff. I steal from everybody.”