How Meryl Streep Inspired This One-Woman Show

Special Features   How Meryl Streep Inspired This One-Woman Show
 
Pretty Woman’s Ellyn Marie Marsh shares how she took her broken heart and turned it into the art of I’m Sorry...What?.
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Curtis and Cort Photography

Last year, millions watched Meryl Streep accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the 2017 Golden Globes. In her riveting speech, she said “Take your broken heart and make it art.” While she was undoubtedly talking about the state of our country, I personally followed Meryl’s advice. I took an unimaginably insane situation and did the most sane thing I could think of: I wrote a one-woman show about it.

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Ellyn Marie Marsh Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I’ve been on Broadway for a lucky and glorious ten years but I’m by no means a star. I’m a go-to sidekick gal. Some who know me would say I’m a comedian, well, my mom would. The job of any comedian is to take a horrible situation and make it less awkward to make us feel better about said situation. After dealing with infidelity and lies and fighting to protect my child, I shared my story. Turns out, onstage it’s hilarious.

Months before, I endured a “bad break-up.” Before you dismiss my premise, know that this was one in which a narcissist (who had an affair with a co-worker) set out on a crusade of revenge. Stalking, police intervention, official charges, restraining orders, false accusations, and court appearances all ensued. For the grand finale, this person hurt the only thing in this world that truly matters to me: my daughter.

My show I’m Sorry... What? debuted in May at Joe’s Pub to a sold out house. People were shocked at my story and I was surprised at their shock. Home raids, drug tests, and court dates were my new normal, which—in order to survive—I had to step outside myself and pretend wasn’t happening. The story unfolded with a built-in set of dramatic stakes. After getting over the embarrassment that this man tried to thrust into my life, I was inspired by every woman who spoke out during the #Metoo movement and decided to speak out in my own way.

When I made the decision to write this show I first approached my music director Drew Wutke. After two previously successful cabaret shows together with Inappropriate and Live From Carnegie Hall-at Joe’s Pub, I explained my idea about telling this story through songs and monologues. Without missing a beat, he said , “Let’s do it”. With every passing event in my life, my reaction always came out the same: I’m Sorry…What? My title was easily born.

I’ve always been inspired by a title and show artwork; once these two things are in place I have a direction. Next, I turned to my best friends Cortney and Curtis Holbrook to help me develop the idea of me poking fun at the legality of what I had been through. With these two essential pieces of the puzzle in place I began to write.

I initially wanted the show to be funny and light-hearted, very “I am Woman hear me roar, I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair” feeling. As I wrote and edited and rinsed and repeated, the form of the show didn’t really follow my initial idea. But I followed where it led. As I wrote, Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” kept surfacing. I kept returning to this idea that this ex brought crazy into my life and he essentially handed me this show. Look what you made me do, you made me write a show.

Drew and I stripped down the song and mashed it with Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish,” which Katy wrote as an anthem for people to use whenever someone’s trying to hold you down or bully you. The two of us also found it amusing that the two pop diva’s wrote these songs about each other.

Then I brought on director Richard Ameilus, with whom I worked on the all-female Jesus Christ Superstar last year starring Morgan James and Shoshana Bean. He brings a feminist approach to all of his work, and I felt I could trust him with the sensitive material. Together, we added multimedia to the show, old-school slide presentation style. The show began to take on the lens of bait and switch.

No matter how much you dance around emotional abuse it becomes pretty unfunny when it involves a child. I had to come to terms with the idea that I couldn’t always be funny. I could be honest, real and venerable, and that was okay. It was more than okay, it was art. Giving myself that liberty, the show flowed in its creation. In choosing the songs to complement my narrative, I stepped away from the genre of musical theatre and found a lot of relatable material from the likes of Pink, Kesha, Ace of Base, and CeeLo. And that’s when I realized why Meryl had told us to re-mold pain into expression. It heals.

After the applause I received emails and Facebook messages from women who have also suffered emotional abuse, messages of desperation and hope from women I didn’t know, telling me how my story made them feel less “stupid” for falling for former partners’ gaslighting and sociopathic tendencies.

I realized I had a platform to let more women know they are not alone and it’s not their fault. I had the power to enforce that they weren’t just “being dramatic” or “overreacting” or that they are not “psycho” or “crazy.”

Since taking my broken heart and making it art released something in so many audience members, I’m bringing it back.

I wrote it because re-telling the story shines a light on different kinds of abuse and manipulation. I wrote it because I felt like my story can help other women. I wrote it because look what you made me do.

Meryl’s wise words are the strategy to combat the greatest threat in any situation: silence. So I’m going to sing out.

I’m Sorry... What? plays an encore presentation at Joe’s Pub September 17 9:30PM at The Green Room 42. Click here for tickets and information.

Watch Marsh greet Playbill on the opening night red carpet of Pretty Woman The Musical:

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