Leslie Beatty always wanted to be an actor, and few things got in her way, except bacon.
"I took a theater class at UK when I was in college," Beatty says. "I went in the class, and they told me to lay on the floor and be bacon. ... I said, 'I don't know what you mean. I can't be bacon.' And I left and I never came back."
The early experience with Method acting did little to derail Beatty's career, which started modestly. When she was cast in her first play, Breaking the Code at Actors Guild of Lexington in 1990, her résumé read, "Shows auditioned for, 4. Times cast: none."
That play launched a career that took Beatty all over the country, including stints in the prestigious American Repertory Theatre's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University and at David Mamet's Atlantic Theatre Company.
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This weekend, Beatty is back at Actors Guild in a sort of homecoming performance, starring in Bad Dates, Theresa Rebeck's one-woman show with a self-explanatory title.
"As someone who's experienced lots of dates, 50-50 good and bad, I can relate to a lot of it," Beatty says over lunch at The Julep Cup restaurant. "I'm reading this one part of it, and when you get to a certain age, issues come up that didn't come up when you were younger, health being one of them. Older people like to talk about their health.
"There's this scene where she's talking about a date where the guy started talking about his cholesterol, and I started laughing. And Walter May was just sitting there looking at me like, 'What the heck?' and tears were flowing down my face. He said, 'This gives me hope.'"
Beatty says May, the play's director, didn't think the scene was that funny, until she read it and explained it.
"I said, 'Imagine having to listen to this on a date. This is not what you want to talk about,'" Beatty says. "And I have been in this situation where people start talking about their health and their doctors, and I'm like, 'You know, more information than I need.'"
Bad Dates is a 90-minute chronicle of the romantic travails of Hayley, a single mother and restaurant manager in New York who has no luck breaking back into the dating scene. It takes place in the bedroom of her apartment as she tries on shoes and dresses for her nights out with everyone from total non-starters to hot prospects that fizzle.
"If you were just looking around town for who to cast in this play, Leslie would be the one," May says.
The actor and play actually came together by accident. Actors Guild's original season included a March production of The Waiting Room, but that show was shelved as the theater tried to trim costs because of the economic downturn. Beatty was cast in the show that replaced The Waiting Room — Robert Hewitt's one-woman play The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. But rights issues emerged with that show. The theater finally turned to Rebeck's Bad Dates, which has been a hit at theaters around the country.
The road from and back to Lexington
For Actors Guild, Bad Dates was a chance to present a distinguished alum.
"It's been five years since I've done anything," Beatty says. "So I equate it to an athlete who hasn't run in five years suddenly deciding to do a marathon. It's kind of crazy."
Beatty's initial foray out of Lexington was in 1992, when she joined the apprentice program at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where among others she got to share the stage with Tony and Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl in Antony and Cleopatra.
That was a precursor to the Henry Clay High School grad's career acting alongside a slew of marquee names. For instance, Beatty appeared in the second-ever production of actor and playwright Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile at American Repertory Theatre, or A.R.T., in Cambridge, Mass.
"He was very cultured and very quiet, very introspective, and you had to get a crowbar to get anything out of him," Beatty says of Martin. "It was kind of intimidating because he's so famous, and he's just sitting there at rehearsal, and you're thinking, 'Your shoe's untied. Tie your shoe.'"
Working at A.R.T., from which she graduated in 1994, Beatty was constantly seeing luminaries such as Elaine Stritch and Arliss Howard.
She says some of the most fun plays were the darkest ones, like Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities.
"It was dirty and painful, and tragic," Beatty remembers of the play, which starred Alvin Epstein and was directed by Robert Woodruff. "Sometimes the darker the play, the more fun people are offstage because you kind of have to be to keep your spirits up. It was so much fun, I can't tell you how much fun that whole production was.
"The curtain came down at the end of Act I, and people just sat there. They didn't know what to do. They didn't applaud, their mouths were open, and you had Woodruff walking around going, 'Who are these people? I hate these people. Rar, rar, rar.'
"People would walk out, would come back for Act II, I mean, it was beautiful. It really, really was. It was amazing, it was just hard to watch."
In New York, she worked and studied at Mamet's Atlantic Theatre Company
"He was intense," Beatty says, recalling the legendary playwright and director, whose wedding to Rebecca Pidgeon she attended.
Beatty's primary New York acting was "off-off-off-off-off-Broadway," she says, and the majority of her work came at regional theaters.
But eventually, around 2000, the roles, whether far from the Great White Way or in the region, stopped coming.
Happy in the here and now
"Right around my 40th birthday, it seemed like everything just started trickling," Beatty, 49, says. "My agent said, 'You're in a weird place. You're too old to play young and too young to play old. I've seen it before, and something will hit. It could be a year, it could be five years.'"
She had to get a regular job, which isn't what she had gone to New York to do.
"I came home," she says.
That was July 31, 2001.
In Lexington, she ran her own businesses and worked other jobs, even commercial and voice-over work and interior decorating. Right now, she is back to what she loves to do, at least for a few weeks.
Actors Guild's move to working with Actors Equity, the stage actors' union, has opened the door to Beatty appearing on its stage under a guest artist contract. Whether she hopes it will reignite her Lexington stage career is something Beatty says she has not considered.
"I'm happy to be here and I'm happy to be doing it," Beatty says. "Am I counting on anything happening from it? No.
"The first time I stepped on stage was at Actors Guild 19 years ago. I love that it's here and that it's part of the community. It means a lot for me to be here, and I would do what I could for it."
But she still won't be bacon.