Meryl Streep Receives Monte Cristo Award
On Monday, April 21, the Eugene Theater Center presented the 14th Annual Monte Cristo Award to legendary theater, film, and television actress Meryl Streep in recognition of her monumental achievements and contributions to the American theater. The Award was presented by Joe Grifasi, long-time friend and fellow O’Neill artist and Yale classmate, at a gala dinner held in her honor at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.
"Every venerable old lady like the O’Neill and myself, doesn’t like to think of themselves as a larded, old institution -- no matter how many tributes they’ve gotten, no matter how many successes we’ve launched," Streep said in her acceptance speech. "We like to think that new work will come to us and our best work is ahead of us. And because of places like the O’Neil that foster new work, it’s possible."
Judith Light, Tony Kushner, John Patrick Shanley and Tracy Letts shared stories about their time working with Streep as the part of the evening’s program. Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez rounded out the event by performing a tribute song for Streep to the tune of "Love is an Open Door" from Disney’s "Frozen." O’Neill Executive Director Preston Whiteway and Chairman Tom Viertel hosted the evening.
Streep’s great empathy for her characters and the diversity of women she has chosen to portray has distinguished her work in film, television and theater for almost three decades. For this she has received an unmatched 17 Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar three times. A graduate of Vassar College and Yale School of Drama, one of Streep’s first professional jobs after Yale was at the O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference in 1975, acting in five plays over six weeks.
She is a co-founder of Mothers and Others, a consumer advocacy group that worked successfully for 12 years to change the way toxins in the environment were regulated, and to promote access to organic and sustainably grown food. She continues her advocacy work with Women for Women International, the Women in the World Foundation and Partners in Health, among other organizations. She and her husband, sculptor Don Gummer, are the parents of a son and three daughters.
"That summer we were all engaged with full-hearted passion in sometimes the silliest of exercises, and all in service of finding that wiggly, elusive creature: a new play," recalled Streep of her time at the O’Neill. "The process was so condensed that I learned a sort of invaluable swiftness of decision making, out of necessity. The ’choices’ could not be labored over, and that, for certain types of thinking actors, is a gift of exigency. You had to, like your fifth grade teacher said, in multiple choice questions, just go with your first instinct, don’t worry it to death. That’s what actors did at the O’Neill, and with full-blown commitment. Like jumping off the platform onto the swinging trapeze... don’t hesitate. It’s a good lesson. One I’ve carried with me my whole life."
She spoke of her longtime friend from those days, Joe Grifasi, saying, "He was the one responsible for my going to the O’Neill. He’s the one who told me about it, and I thought, got me in. One of the funniest actors in the world, known to everyone in the theater community for forty years, and the embodiment of the ’just get up and do it’ school of acting. A champ."
Following her studies at Yale and summer at the O’Neill, Streep starred in several productions of Shakespeare in the Park and on Broadway and broke onto the film scene with her role in the drama "Julia." The following year she appeared in "The Deer Hunter" opposite Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, for which she earned her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Other acclaimed roles include "Sophie’s Choice," "Postcards from the Edge," "The Bridges of Madison County," "The Hours," "Adaptation," "The Devil Wears Prada" and "The Iron Lady." In December 2014, she will star in a film version Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale musical "Into the Woods," directed by Rob Marshall.
"We are deeply honored and incredibly delighted to present Ms. Streep with the Monte Cristo Award. Her undeniable passion, talent, and legendary work ethic -- to say nothing of her philanthropic efforts -- truly mirror the ethos of the Monte Cristo Award: the ’artistic excellence and a lifelong commitment to theater’ of our namesake," said O’Neill Executive Director Preston Whiteway. "As we celebrate the O’Neill’s 50th Anniversary, we are proud to honor one of our very own."
The Monte Cristo Award is presented to a prominent theater artist each year in recognition of a distinguished career exemplifying Eugene O’Neill’s "pioneering spirit, unceasing artistic commitment and excellence." Past recipients of the Award include Christopher Plummer, Michael Douglas, James Earl Jones, Harold Prince, Kevin Spacey, Neil Simon, Jason Robards, Jr., Edward Albee, August Wilson, Zoe Caldwell, Brian Dennehy, Karl Malden, Arthur & Barbara Gelb, and Wendy Wasserstein.
"The O’Neill is a place unlike any other," said Streep. "I’m honored to receive this award from an organization so vital to the discovery and support of new artists and work for the American theater, including my friend and Yale classmate, Wendy Wasserstein."
As part of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s 50th Anniversary events, from May 17 through September 13, 2014, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center will host a special exhibition, which is free and open to the public, dedicated to the rich history of the O’Neill. The exhibition, titled "Launchpad of the American Theater: the O’Neill" since 1964, will chart the journey from past to present to future with drawings, interviews, video, photographs, original scripts, and sound.
The O’Neill will celebrate the landmark year at home and on the road with its thousands of alumni, across all programs. Alumni will reunite for Homecoming Weekend on July 4- 6, offering play and musical readings, tours of the new construction, cocktail receptions and pub nights with live entertainment. Free alumni events will be held in Louisville, KY, Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in the spring and fall of 2014.
For more information, visit www.theoneill.org/