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 lead—who, 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 Comedy may 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
Anne Legault’s freely imagined tale of a meeting between Virginia Woolf and the musical prodigy-turned-murderess Alma Rattenbury. Next up: W.G. Sebald’s chat with Phil Specter.
EMPRESS OF CHINA
March 12-April 13
West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street, 212-279-4200
From concubine to Dowager Empress—Pan 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.
A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG
March 14-June 15
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, 212-719-1300
The fabulous Eddie Izzard displays his serious-actor side in this Broadway revival of Peter Nichols’s play about two parents’ struggle over their mute, handicapped child.
March 18-April 20
Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, 212-239-6200
Bartlett Sher, who mounted Cymbeline for Theatre for a New Audience last season and the Obie-winning Waste in 2000, returns to TFNA to helm Christopher Hampton’s translation of the Molière classic.
Good vibrations: Heiner Goebbels’s Hashirigaki
photo: Mario del Curto
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, 718-636-4100
Gertrude Stein meets Brian Wilson in Heiner Goebbels’s postmodern Kabuki. The German director melds The Making of Americans with Pet Sounds—a curious combo to be sure, but with sound design by a man named Willi Bopp, it’s gotta be pleasing to the ear.
PEOPLE ARE WRONG!
P.S.122, 150 First Avenue, 212-477-5829
David Herskovits directs this Loser’s Lounge production, about a cult-leading landscape artist. The evening is described as a cautionary tale about wedding planners, music festivals, acid, alien visitation, and the sixth dimension. Simon Russell Beale not listed in the cast.
March 20-April 13
HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212-627-0202
In Deke Weaver and Michael Farkas’s dark, vaudevillian play, two orphaned brothers cut a swath through a New York haunted by Saturn (the old-school god, not the faux-rootsy but generally agreeable GM division).
LAST OF THE SUNS
April 18-May 11
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, 212-971-4863
The Ma-Yi Theater Company, recipient of an Obie grant last season, presents the New York premiere of Alice Tuan’s 1995 play. The satirical piece combines Chinese folklore and American consumerism, in a production directed by Chay Yew.
April 23-June 29
The Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street, 212-645-8015
Some gentleman named Woody Allen has set pen to paper or finger to key and mustered up a couple of one-acts, Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook, about which we know nothing, since Mr. Allen ain’t saying. Such crypticness is not likely to deter ticket buyers.
NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
P.S.122, 150 First Avenue, 212-475-5288
No connection to Dostoyevsky, claims writer Eric Bogosian. “I just steal titles I like.” Bogosian’s one-man piece does have a connection to another writer, though: Jonathan Ames, who’ll be performing this monologue about an urban recluse “sinking into madness.” (Why always “sinking” into madness? Why not “dismounting” or “schussing”?)
I AM MY OWN WIFE
May 2-June 8
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, 212-279-4200
Doug Wright’s newest is a one-man piece inspired by an East German transvestite named Charlotte von Mahlsdorff, who lived through almost 100 years of European history and survived both Nazi and Communist regimes.
May 6-June 29
Signature Theater, 555 West 42nd Street, 212-244-7529
The Signature concludes its Lanford Wilson season with the New York premiere of Rain Dance. In 1945 Los Alamos, four nuclear scientists struggle with their responsibility for the atom bomb as the project approaches its “successful” conclusion. First produced at Jeff Daniels’s impressive Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan, a town otherwise notable as the home of Jiffy Mix and actor Bill Coelius.
May 12-June 7
Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, 212-206-1515
Maria Irene Fornes premieres a play she wrote in 1968. Staged by Soho Rep’s Daniel Aukin, who won an Obie last year for his direction of Melissa James Gibson’s [sic], Molly’s Dream concerns a waitress in an isolated saloon and the dreams engendered by her encounter with a passing stranger.
May 17-June 7
HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212-647-0202
Described as a surreal, Orwellian fairy tale, Patricia Eakins’s play takes place in a post-apocalypse wasteland (though apparently it has nothing to do with New York Rangers hockey).