Erin BROCKOVICH was billed as the star of "The Vagina Monologues" at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza last month. No, we don't mean Julia Roberts, who won an Academy Award for playing Brockovich. We mean the well-known legal eagle herself.
Watch out, professional actors. First reality TV shows took away some of your best-paying opportunities -- and now this?
Of course, "The Vagina Monologues" is not a fully staged play. It's a reading. But actors like to think they can do readings better than random celebrities can. And this was not primarily a benefit, where you might expect a non-acting celebrity to take a crack at a reading for one night only. No, except for a small percentage of the gross donated to a charity, this was a commercial production.
There's even worse news for actors. The Brockovich gig was supposed to be the first of three successive "Vagina Monologues" bookings -- with a different star at each one. Gabrielle Carteris of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame was going to headline the show in Long Beach, and Margot Kidder in Glendale.
Then the other two stops were canceled. Advance sales weren't strong enough. Brockovich is from the Thousand Oaks area, so perhaps some of her draw there was from her local ties. However, you also could conclude that the public would rather see Brockovich than either of the actresses.
Perhaps it's only fair. Actors have encroached into the arenas of other kinds of celebrities for years. Like another actor decades ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor of California.
Crossovers have their limits, of course. Carteris probably isn't about to start investigating toxic dumps. And it's hard to imagine a male counterpart of Brockovich doing the same kind of project that she is.
Would anyone care to see mathematician John Nash, the subject of "A Beautiful Mind," appearing in the Thousand Oaks production of "The Penis Monologues"?
On the other hand, celebrity-struck audiences may relish the idea of seeing familiar faces, regardless of their thespian training.
Perhaps theatrical producers are already dreaming up casting opportunities along the lines of the following:
* Gray Davis as "Julius Caesar." True, no one is thinking of offering him a crown, but it's certainly easy to imagine other politicos taking drastic steps to oust him. If anybody balks at casting Darrell Issa as Brutus, the congressman could simply buy his way in.
* George W. Bush would be plausible as Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey." Just tweak the script -- instead of chatting with a giant invisible rabbit, Bush's Dowd could be the only person capable of seeing weapons of mass destruction.
* Bill Gates should have auditioned for Broadway's upcoming "Little Shop of Horrors." He'd be ideal as Seymour, the nerdish clerk who creates a monster that threatens to consume America. To revisit the score's hit song, he certainly knows about "Somewhere That's Green."
* Rudolph Giuliani cleaned up the real 42nd Street, so why not cast him as the dictatorial director who whips up a Broadway show in the musical "42nd Street"? His ex-wife Donna Hanover could play the temperamental diva -- she in fact already participated in a reading of "The Vagina Monologues."
* On the face of it, Enron's Ken Lay would be ideal as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." But could he pull off the character's transformation? Would anyone believe that he would buy his clerk a Christmas dinner?
* Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter, two of America's most famous biracial athletes, could star in a new version of "West Side Story," in which ethnicity is no longer the bone of contention. Instead, they're fighting over commercial endorsements.
* Joseph Lieberman could appear as Tevye, who's attempting to adapt his religious traditions to modern life in "Fiddler on the Roof."
* Ozzy Osbourne would be a natural as "King Lear." Sure, the script would have to accommodate four-letter words, but trash talk isn't censored on stage as it is on TV.
* Richard Williams could do a dynamite "Richard's Turn" as the overbearing parent in "Gypsy." Sing out, Serena!
Don Shirley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org