Dust off the laurel wreaths and gather the bouquets. Moisturize your hands and down a lozenge in anticipation of applause and cries of “Bravo!”—David Greenspan has returned to the stage with a new play. Two, actually. More or less. A writer and actor of unprepossessing appearance and uncommon gifts, Greenspan provides a fresh chance to see his The Myopia, a raucous, metaliterary puzzle that played for one weekend in 2003. (See Michael Feingold’s original Voice review, “Noise of the Change.”) He’s now adorned that old script with a brief companion piece, a re-creation of Gertrude Stein’s 1935 lecture “Plays.”
“Plays,” as penned by Stein, is not edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Crafted in Stein’s famously recursive prose, it is a drowsy meditation on stage action vs. audience emotion and poetry vs. prose, rendered as a series of cumbersome koans. “It is always the most interesting thing about anything to know whether you hear or you see,” declares Stein. And, “All this is very important, and important for me and important, just important.”
It’s certainly important for Greenspan, who in his own writing continues Stein’s fascination with language and sometimes adopts her deliberate plotlessness. (Of course, Greenspan also delights in complicated storytelling and lavish characterization, techniques Stein does not embrace.) Here, he devotes himself to enlivening Stein’s somnolent sentences. With a slightly raised pitch, he delivers the lecture in tones of ironic amusement and sincere affection, luxuriating over words such as “cinema” (sensuously pronounced as “sin-ee-ma”) and “familiarity.”
Near the end of the text, Stein explains, in a moment of rare clarity, that the purpose of art “is to live in the actual present . . . and to completely express that complete actual present.” You don’t need to tell Greenspan that. No matter how outré his character or undramatic his materials, he’s always shockingly, divinely present, whether he’s reciting Aristotle’s Poetics (The Argument), simultaneously portraying 14 Republican senators (The Myopia), enacting a demon matriarch (Coraline), or sidelining, thrillingly, as a houseboy in a Broadway show (The Royal Family). Even when rendering Stein’s dozy phrases, he’s dangerously stirring.