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Wanna Drop Off an Annoying Actor Roommate? Hello, Samuel French!

November 22, 1998|Mary McNamara

The young man skids through the doorway in a violet-dark smudge of crushed velour and faux snakeskin. With the breathless air of a wartime medic in search of the last vial of morphine, he gasps his request: "Do you have monologues?"

Well, yes.

Shelves of them. Modern monologues and classics, tragic and comedic, famous and unsung, monologues for men, women, children and assorted previously believed-to-be-inanimate objects. You need a piece to speak, a stage to center, a few choice thoughts on love and death and your mother's most recent betrayal? Then this is the place. Samuel French Bookshop, bookstore and local monument, specializing in all things thespian. On your left, the theater, on your right, the Industry. Hopes and dreams, aisle five. Tattered illusions, in the back in the discount room.

Just a smidge too east on Sunset Boulevard to be considered actual Strippage, Samuel French is a home away from home for the young and inspiring--with a college-bookstore-meets-"Godspell"-set layout, it provides all the necessities: chairs, space, a clean restroom and a pay phone. Next door lurks a British pub and an Indian takeout, and across the street, a Kinko's and a FedEx. Really, what more does one need? (Memo to Starbucks: How on earth did you miss this one?)

So it's no wonder that many of those who come to Samuel French's come to stay. For a while. Quite a while. On any given afternoon, 25 to 30 people can be found doing much more than browsing. The couple in the back (he recently said a line on "NYPD Blue," and she could not be more grateful for his time and advice) are running through "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" a few hundred times; the young blond in the crop top and scandalously low-slung Adidas warmup pants is moving steadily through Mamet ("Madame, pour vous, may we suggest something perhaps a trifle more Noel Coward?"); and the three guys with matching sideburns and eyebrow rings are looking at the published screenplay for Aliens 4, "Alien Resurrection" (yes, there actually was a screenplay), and basically hanging.

Besides providing day care for the city's soon-to-be rich and famous, Samuel French has earned its landmark status by fulfilling two staples of theatrical themes: all is not what it seems and wisdom comes with age. Samuel French Inc. is actually a 168-year-old publishing business out of New York that practically invented the bound single play. And unlike most of its transient neighbors, it's been anchored in the same oddly shabby blockage since 1947. (At 10 years, the Studio City branch is still a child actor.) All in all, it stocks about 70,000 titles--from Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" to the autobiography ". . . 'And Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.' " And they say people in Hollywood don't read.

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