Peter Story, who stars in upcoming one-night-only, one-man performance of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus – Live!” is a Tulsa, Okla., native who lives in Los Angeles. But before that he was an apprentice with B Street Theatre, where he met his wife, Megan O’Neil.
He worked at B Street and the Sacramento Theatre Company in the production of Gregg Coffin’s “Five Course Love,” where he met choreographer Mindy Cooper, who eventually brought him into “Mars/Venus,” which she directed. The play is based on John Gray’s 1992 pop psychology self-help book, which sold more than 50 million copies and was cited as the highest-ranked nonfiction book of the 1990s. Story’s been on the road across the country with the play since last year.
The Bee spoke to Story from Superior, Wis., where he was taking a break from the tour to work on an independent film.
How did you get this job?
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I sent in three audition tapes to the home office, which is Emory Entertainment in St. Louis. After I did the third audition, which I guess is the one they were looking for, I had two test performances in late April, early May of 2013. At the time they had a lead guy. Matt Iseman, who is now (and was then as well) mainly the host of “American Ninja Warrior.” When that show got picked up for prime time, he immediately became too busy and too expensive. So I got bumped up to the No. 1 position, and I’ve been taking every tour date since then and I’m actually the only one in North America doing it right now. This is now 150-plus performances in over 40 cities and over 40 states, and we have dates through 2016. This is showing no signs of slowing down or stopping.
What’s it like being on the road like that?
I’m not gonna lie: It’s tough. And it’s exciting at the same time. The travel is really difficult. Just two weeks ago I did Portland, Ore.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Dubuque, Iowa, in 72 hours. That is so brutal. I’m doing overnight flights, red-eye flights, combined with huge road trips. One time last year we did Peoria, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; and then Atlanta, and we did that driving, so we did three six-hour road trips, back-to-back-to-back, three days in a row with performances at the end of each one of them. That’s grueling, it is. Being away from my wife is very difficult.
What’s the upside?
I have wanted to for quite some time do a one-man show. It has been one of those actor notches in the belt. This was an opportunity to do that. Also, personally I am a huge fan of theater spaces. Theaters in general. The geometry of them, the architecture of them. Because we’re hitting some of these smaller cities along the way, I’m getting to step on the stage of some of the most beautiful, classic theaters you’ve ever seen.
I think about theaters like the Bing Crosby Theater in Red Bank, N.J. Just gorgeous. Chandeliers that have been hanging there for 80, 90 years. Or Sioux Falls, S.D., we went to the Orpheum Theater there, and they were celebrating their 100-year anniversary, and they put up a new back wall to the theater because before the wall split and opened out the back to the railroad tracks where the vaudeville cars would pull up right behind the theater, open directly onto the stage, unload on the stage, do their show, go back out the back door onto the rail car and train on to the next city. I just love that stuff, I do.
What can you tell me about the show?
The title might be a little misleading because it is a book that a lot of people might consider kind of dated, but Eric Coble did a great job of pulling the universalities from the book that really ring true to people regardless of if they’re in same-sex marriage, if they’re just dating, or they’ve been married for years and years. I’ll go out on stage and see a couple sitting as far apart from each other as they possibly can. As the show goes on and we start to get into the humor and the themes, I see them start to soften, sit a little closer together, and I’ll see his arm go around her. By the end when they’re leaving the building, I know they’re going to have a great night. That for me has made it really worthwhile and been a huge pat on the back so far. …
Megan and I haven’t been married very long, and I’m going out there trying to share these nuggets of wisdom with people who’ve been married longer than I’ve been alive. It can be intimidating.
By now it seems like you’ve had time to grow into it and make it yours.
The show is growing. I went back and did it in Wichita after doing it almost a year ago, and the response back from everybody was: “It seems like a different show.” It’s had time to marinate, I’ve trimmed a lot of the fat, I’ve found better transitions, and lot of it also is confidence. When they handed me the script they said feel free to make it your own. And I really did. It was a fake wife with a bunch of fake stories and said I’d really like to use Megan, and I’d like to use some personal details because I feel like this show will have greater impact if the audience can relate to me. They’re not gonna relate to me if they go home and look me up on the Internet and find out everything I said was fake. But if they go on my Instagram page, they see pictures of Megan and the pictures of Panda, our dog, who I talk about in the show. Now, it’s not all true because I talk about our kids and we don’t have kids.
What was B Street like for you?
Well, you saw me grow up there. I consider Sacramento my theater birthplace. That was the time I cut my teeth. That was the time I really grew as an artist. I learned the (Buck) Busfield way. The importance of story, the importance of pace. The B Street is a very rare community of people that has a family-type atmosphere, and it’s not so much the familial bonds it creates as it is the environment where you’re allowed to take risks. There is a net there at the B Street where I can just be the biggest, stupidest buffoon and make the most egregious errors on the stage, and it is appreciated as artistic risk. And that’s the only way I’m going to grow. To grow up in that theater to see people like Dave Pierini, to see people like Kurt Johnson, the guest artists they bring in, to have Tim come in and bring his knowledge from film and television, for me it was the most amazing living workshop that never stopped. I owe so much to that community. (The show in) Roseville is a huge feather in my cap, to be able to show people the fruits of the labor that took place all those years on the stage at 2711 B Street.
Wasn’t your first date with your wife, Megan, a River Cats game?
Yes and we were inseparable from that point on.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.
“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus – LIVE!”
What: Eric Coble’s stage adaptation of John Gray’s best-selling self-help book. Directed by Mindy Cooper, starring Peter Story.
Where: The Roseville Theater, 241 Vernon St., Roseville
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $50; $25 through Ticketmaster.com with code: MARS
Information: marsvenuslive.com or call (800) 745-3000.