By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
OK, let's see if we can unpile these layers. In Shakespeare's time, men played women's roles. So in this contemporary summer-stock production of As You Like It, the woman playing the male lead is scheming to win back her ex-lover, who's playing a female role. Reasonable enough. But this is a play within a play, so the woman playing a man is played by a man, while the man playing a woman is played by a woman. Which can only mean that David Greenspan is writing plays again. In the new one, She Stoops to Comedy, the role confusions will undoubtedly once again be stacked as high as an elephant's eye, launching flights of intellect in every imaginable direction.
With the exception of a one-act (directed by someone else) in last year's Fringe Festival, it's been nearly a decade since Greenspan, once the scriptorial delight of venues like HERE and the Public Theater, had a new play presented in New York. After he knocked audiences for a loop with the freewheeling outrageousness of works like The Home Show Pieces, 2 Samuel II, Dog in a Dancing School, and Dead Mother, Or Shirley Not All in Vain, the largely unconstructive criticism of his deconstructive romps inevitably began to tell on him. While sustaining his literary impulse through readings and workshops (She Stoops to Comedy has had two of the former and one of the latter), he concentrated on his acting, becoming a touchstone of downtown authenticity in productions ranging from the WPA revival of Boys in the Band (in which his eerie, gliding performance as Harold was the hit of the evening) to Broadway's Hairspray (in which he served for a time in the appropriately gender-confused post of understudy to both halves of the married couple played by Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa).
Greenspan's gift for extravagant mental leaps has often crunched together in his scripts the most improbably disparate cultural elements: Few other playwrights have produced, as he did in The Dead Mother, a work that draws on both Charley's Aunt and Dante's Inferno. (The inferno the hero traveled through in Greenspan's version, however, was the hellish underworld of closeted gays in late-'50s L.A.; the spirit guiding him through it, in lieu of the poet Virgil, was the ghost of Alice B. Toklas.) At the same time, few dramatists have had the sardonic, clear-eyed audacity to depict themselves sitting on the john, fantasizing about becoming famous, mutating into Streisand singing "People"and finding, when they finish, that the toilet has clogged. (This vignette, from The Home Show Pieces, also featured the memorable throwaway line "This is my husband, David Mamet.")
What Greenspan may do, in She Stoops to Comedy, with the opportunities provided by As You Like It is anybody's guess. The one sure bet is that conventional backstage comedy, even conventional gender-illusion comedy, will only be a secondary item on his rich theatrical menu. Shakespeare's play, don't forget, deals with exile and totalitarianism as well as with love and sexual identity. The author-director himself will play the actress who plays Shakespeare's male lead, Orlando, with Marissa Copeland appearing opposite him as the actor playing Rosalind, As You Like It's female leadwho, if you remember your college Shakespeare course, has to disguise herself as a boy while wooing Orlando. Also on hand for the onstage and backstage high jinks will be Mia Barron, Jeremy Shamos, and T. Ryder Smith, who knows all about delusions of gender from his appearance a few seasons back in the downtown revival of Mae West's Sex.
To make the comeback a double one, the piece will be the first full production in Playwrights Horizons' newly renovated intimate upstairs space, now renamed the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Given Greenspan's propensity for testing the edge of the art form, She Stoops to Comedymay make it a sharp theater indeed.
April 3-27, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, 212-279-4200
Comments by Brian Parks:
P.S.122, 150 First Avenue, 212-477-5829
In The Florida Project, writer-director Tory Vazquez had folks wrestling alligators. The shoulder pins are only slightly more conventional in her latest piece, Wrestling Ladies, described as "a living comic book of seven women who negotiate their lives in and out of the ring." A welcome distraction after the recent, sad death of The Sheik.
THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE
Opens March 7
Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, 212-239-6200
The West End hit tries to repeat its success this side of the Atlantic. Written by Hamish McColl, Sean Foley, and Eddie Braben, The Play What I Wrote is an homage to the British comedy team of Morecambe and Wise. How will New York's ignorance of the duo affect its Broadway fate? Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
ALMA AND MRS. WOOLF
Blue Heron Theatre, 123 East 24th Street, 212-206-1515
EMPRESS OF CHINA
March 12-April 13
West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street, 212-279-4200
From concubine to Dowager EmpressPan Asian Rep's new production looks back at Tzu-Hsi as she rises to power in fin de siècle Beijing. Tradition clashes with modernity, that ol' bugbear, in Ruth Wolff's play, directed by Tisa Cheng.