Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor has something rather unorthodox planned for Valentine’s weekend. No love songs, no romantic movie — this year, they’re dropping a truth bomb called David Dean Bottrell Makes Love: A One-Man Show that aims to make you laugh but is guaranteed to make you blush.
Conceived in 2011, Bottrell’s one-man show was designed for the Los Angeles storytelling circuit with his goal to tell the story of his ill-fated 10-year relationship with a now-ex-partner with an air of humor and in under 1,500 words.
He pitched it to the Comedy Central Stage in LA, was given a one-night run and sold out so fast that the show would be extended and extended again until it eventually came to a close after 18 months.
And what kept audiences coming back? Bottrell was honest. Maybe too honest.
“The first time I ever performed this show … I was standing backstage in the dressing room and thought, ‘I’m about to go out there and say all this in front of people, many of whom are my friends sitting in that audience.’ I just panicked and thought, ‘No one is going to be able to look me in the eye after I have said this stuff. It’s going to change the way people look at me,’” he recalls.
Luckily, after sharing some of the most intimate details of his love life, the opposite happened. “The audience made this turn with me, and I could hear these people sniffling in the audience. I was so floored by the response that the story created,” he says, adding, “I was so embraced by people afterwards, with them saying, ‘Oh, my god. I thought it was just me.’”
Shifting focus to his acting career, Bottrell left David Dean Bottrell Makes Love in the rearview mirror for several years.
It wasn’t until 2019 when he revisited it with new stories to tell, some new and some old memories recently unearthed: his struggle to craft the perfect Match.com profile, his one-night stands and dating apps, and the time in his childhood when he got engaged to his next-door neighbor so he could use her swing set.
The direction of the reimagined show had less outright jokes, but Bottrell felt it was actually funnier, a comic whirlwind with even more relatable, truthful dark humor.
“I’m a middle-aged gay guy, and I’m telling the truth. … Apparently the more truth I tell, the funnier it gets. And the more specific I get, oddly, the more universal it becomes,” he says, noting how frequently audience members of various ages, sexualities and backgrounds share their similarly intimate, sometimes embarrassing, stories with him after the show. “People walk away from this show remembering that they laughed a great deal. And oftentimes they remember that what they laughed about was not just a bunch of jokes, they laughed about the mystery of getting through life.”
Laughter is therapeutic in more ways than one, and in this show, Bottrell allows his audience to laugh about their own missteps in love and relationships vicariously through his outrageous stories.
“When they hear the truth, they’ll trust you. And when they trust you, they’ll laugh. And even though we might be laughing at some painful or difficult stuff, once you laugh about it, you’ve released it. And once you’ve released it, you can go forward,” he says.
Having performed his show throughout Los Angeles and New York City, constantly rotating his lineup of stories and workshopping new ones, his Valentine’s show at Bay Street on February 11 will be his first time performing in a small town, and he plans to bring the best stories he’s got.
“I think it’s fun to do a show like this, because I celebrate everybody in this show. I celebrate the people who have a nice, strong, clean, clear connection to love, and I also celebrate people who have struggled to understand it,” he says. “I also salute people who are living happy and OK without that element in their life. Everybody’s part of the collage, and I’ve lived all three of those lives. They’re all represented, so anybody who comes to this show for Valentine’s Day — whether it’s to avoid Valentine’s Day or to celebrate it — I promise they’ll have a good time.”
He continues, “I really feel blessed to do this. I never dreamed, when I started doing this, that it would get the critical response that it’s gotten, in terms of the praise that it’s gotten — and I never dreamed that people would laugh as much as they do in this show. And I never imagined how it would change me personally, doing this show.”
David Dean Bottrell Makes Love, directed by Guy Stroman, comes to Bay Street Theater on Saturday, February 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 631-725-9500 or by visiting baystreet.org.