NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano chatted with Steve Guttenberg about his play at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. "Tales From the Guttenberg Bible" chronicles the North Massapequa actor's journey from Long Island to the big screen. Credit: Newsday/Drew Singh; Gordon Grant, George Street Playhouse

If you ask Steve Guttenberg a simple question like "What is your play 'Tales From the Guttenberg Bible' about?," don't expect a simple answer.

"The play is a story about family, it’s about believing in yourself. It’s about ambition. It’s about Hollywood, it’s about my father and his son. It’s really mainly about what it takes to become something in this world. Whether it’s an actor or a doctor or a street sweeper, you’ve got to have your loved ones, whoever those loved ones are — friends, associates, your blood family — behind you," Guttenberg said.

Or putting it more succinctly, it's all about Steve.

And, as expected from someone who starred in such popular '80s comedies as "Short Circuit," "Three Men and a Baby" and the "Police Academy" films, it's first and foremost funny.

'Tales From the Guttenberg Bible'

WHEN | WHERE Through Aug. 27, Bay Street Theater & Sag Harbor Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Bay St., Sag Harbor

INFO $69.99-$134.99; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org

Actor Steve Guttenberg at the stage door of Bay Street...

Actor Steve Guttenberg at the stage door of Bay Street Theater, where he is performing in his play “Tales From the Guttenberg Bible” in Sag Harbor. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The show, which the North Massapequa native adapted from his 2012 memoir "The Guttenberg Bible," runs through Aug. 27 at the Bay Street Theater & Sag Harbor Center for the Arts. In the book, the actor recounted his experiences from L.I. to L.A. Those stories are played out for laughs in the stage version, in which Guttenberg, 64, stars as himself while three other actors each take on 30 characters, including his dad, Stanley Guttenberg, who died last year, and his mom, Ann.

"A lot happens in our house on Wyoming Avenue in North Massapequa. My mom and dad are always there. That’s their headquarters," Guttenberg said.

While Long Island plays an important role in the show, there's also plenty of show-biz stuff, starting with his arrival in Hollywood at 17, a scene that could have easily come out of a Mel Brooks movie: Guttenberg gained entry onto the Paramount lot by pretending to be the son of the studio's then president Michael Eisner and set up a pretend office at the studio. The ruse worked, and he soon caught the notice of casting directors.

There's also plenty of name dropping as celebrity characters including Laurence Olivier, Tom Selleck, Leonard Nimoy, Ted Danson, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and many others make cameo appearances.

The unusual set looks like a throwback to the '60s TV series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," a wall of windows that characters pop in and out of while also changing costumes and wigs at a moment's notice.

"It gives us a great amount of freedom to have all of these characters talking and engaging with the other characters," Guttenberg said. "I’m sort of like the stage manager in 'Our Town.' I’m in the play and I’m telling you all about the play. I’m the Greek chorus and I’m the narrator and I am a character in the play."

And Guttenberg takes pride in the fact that his character is himself, a young Jewish male with plenty of chutzpah to fight back against the anti-Semitism he encountered from agents and studio executives early in his career. "The first thing they wanted me to do was change my name because it was too Jewish," he said. "The typical movie star is more like Brad Pitt as opposed to George Segal. All through my career, I’ve had agents and casting directors make sharp and offensive comments about my looks and that I'm too Semitic.

"it made me dislike my looks and made me want to be as far from Jewish as possible," he continued. "And then I realized, no, I am the only guy who looks like me. I’m the only Steve Guttenberg and the only actor I can be is me."

Guttenberg, who plays himself in his play, also describes his...

Guttenberg, who plays himself in his play, also describes his character as the Greek chorus as well as the narrator. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

FROM PAGE TO STAGE

Guttenberg hadn't even thought about turning his autobiography into a play until eight years ago at the urging of his friend, producer-director Julian Schlossberg. The idea didn't begin to come to fruition for another three years when his father became ill.

"I sat next to his bedside and I wrote about 300 pages and I sent it to Julian. He said, 'This is great, but it’s not "Nicholas Nickleby." So we had to shave it down. And he looked around the country for a great regional theater," Guttenberg said.

The one he found was George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Artistic director David Saint liked the play and arranged for "Tales" to have its world premiere in April. “It was a joy working with Steve on this script focusing on his remarkable life," said Saint, who directed the show. "The best discovery was finding that Steve is one of the most decent, nicest guys in the business. There is a reason why he’s played so many likable guy next door characters in movies through the years: because they are a reflection of the genuine person he is.”

The show opened to enthusiastic reviews (Broadway World called it "humorous, insightful and excellently performed"), and everyone involved became anxious to share it with Long Island audiences.

"When I was a teenager, a Jewish kid from Connecticut in the 1980s, Steve Guttenberg was my idol," said Scott Schwartz, artistic director at Bay Street. "What a thrill it is to now be able to bring him and his hilarious show to the Bay Street audience. And what an extra thrill for me personally to get to know him and spend time with him here in the Hamptons. I can tell you, he's a real mensch."

Guttenberg, left, with Tom Selleck and Ted Danson in the...

Guttenberg, left, with Tom Selleck and Ted Danson in the 1987 movie smash "Three Men and a Baby." Credit: Everett Collection

LOVING LONG ISLAND

Though bringing "Tales' to Long Island might seem like a homecoming for Guttenberg, who spends most of his time on the West Coast, in reality, he's never really left.

"I go home all the time," Guttenberg said, to visit family and friends. Those trips home always include stops at some favorite Massapequa haunts like Pappalardo's Pizza Cove ("the best pizza on Long Island," he said) run by his best friend, Joey Pappalardo. And Guttenberg still gets excited thinking about the tuna on toast and assorted ice cream flavors at Krisch's, one of his go-to places from his youth.

Once "Tales" finishes its Bay Street run, it may be a while before he gets back to Long Island. Guttenberg said he'll be taking the show across the country and around the globe. He's also working on a new book called "Time to Think," which deals with caring for his dad in his final years, that is set to come out sometime around Father’s Day.

While Guttenberg wishes that his dad could have been in the audience for "Tales From the Guttenberg Bible," he hopes the play also serves as a testament to his dad.

"It’s all the memories I’ve had since I left home at 17," he said. "It helps me with my grief, where I can work out my relationship with my dad and how his death affected me. It is very relatable whether you’re a sophisticate or a one-time play visitor. You’re going to get a lot out of it."

SOME REAL CHARACTERS IN 'GUTTENBERG BIBLE'

"Tales From the Guttenberg Bible" features a number of characters — specifically, 91, once you add in Steve Guttenberg who wrote the show and plays himself. Many are celebs that the North Massapequa native worked with. Here are some who made a deep impression on him.

RICHARD WIDMARK (his co-star in the 1977 movie "Rollercoaster") — "I was going to get fired and Richard Widmark saved me. I kept blowing my lines. … He spoke to the director and he said, 'If you fire him, I'm going to take a walk, because you're going to scar him for life. You gotta give him a break.' He was just fantastic."

LAURENCE OLIVIER and GREGORY PECK (his co-stars in 1978's "The Boys From Brazil") — "It was like being in a cage with two large bears but all of a sudden I realized that these two bears both had brains and a heart and that we have that in common, And before I knew it, we became friends."

BARRY LEVINSON (director of his 1982 breakout "Diner") — "Barry Levinson was an angel to me and gave me my career. And I loved working with Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin and the great Mickey Rourke. … Barry had us go out to dinner every night. We had three weeks before we shot that movie and in that time we all bonded and became friends."

LEONARD NIMOY (director of the 1987 smash "Three Men and a Baby") — "He was incredibly generous to me with his wisdom and advice. He would hang out with his wife [actress Susan Bay] and her ex husband, John Schuck. I said 'Leonard, how on earth do you hang out with your wife and her ex-husband?' He said "Steven — love. If you start from love, everything will work."

— DANIEL BUBBEO

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