Director and Playwright Elyse Singer Discovers Two Unusual Inventors


Computer creator Ada Lovelace possessed a pair of smiling blue eyes; Marie Curie could claim a distinguished profile; and Rosalind Franklin, who assisted Watson and Crick, earned the sobriquet “the Dark Lady of DNA.” But there was never an inventress like Hedy Lamarr. An Austrian-born movie star praised by Max Reinhardt as “the most beautiful woman in Europe,” Lamarr had a gorgeous face, a sumptuous figure, and a first-class mind. In the early 1940s, having emigrated to Hollywood, she attempted to aid the Allied war effort. Lamarr partnered with avant-garde composer George An theil and patented a secret communications device, now known as “spread-spectrum technology” or “frequency hopping.”

Theater, contrarily, is a not-at-all-secret communications device. This summer, Elyse Singer, artistic director of the Hourglass Group, will deploy Frequency Hopping, her drama about Lamarr and Antheil’s collaboration on U.S. Patent 2292387. Having created plays by and about Mae West, Courtney Love, and vaudevillian Eva Tanguay, Singer apparently has a taste for intelligent, complicated women who thrive in the public eye. She began work on the script a decade ago, after listening to an NPR piece about Lamarr appearing on the cover of Invention and Technology magazine. “Immediately, I saw this parallel,” Singer recalls, “between the idea of an anti-jamming device that would shift frequencies randomly to avoid detection and . . . human communication: We send secret messages, we shift, we hop around in our conversation. I knew it was a play. I had to get the magazine.”

After searching six newsstands, she found the journal and wrote the play, which went through drafts, readings, residencies, and workshops before being relegated to the drawer. But last year, Singer rescued the script and sent it to the Stage International Script Competition, a contest for plays about science and technology run by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Singer won first prize and a $10,000 production grant. On May 29, at 3LD in Tribeca, she’ll direct the first performance of the play, which features original music by Joshua Fried, sophisticated projection design, and at least 25 musical robots, who will perform Antheil’s most famous work, Ballet Mécanique. The play describes Lamarr and Antheil’s lives, tracing the development of their device and toying with the notion of whether or not they had an affair. (Erica Newhouse, newly graduated from Juilliard, and stage veteran Joe Urla will star.) As Singer prepares to enter rehearsal, she ticks off the upcoming production’s assets: “Robots, sex, beautiful women, and cool music—what else do we need?”


Performances begin May 27

Michael Stuhlbarg has earned excellent notices in the past several years, but none have been quite as glowing as Ophelia’s description of Hamlet: “Th’expectancy and rose of the fair state,/The glass of fashion and the mould of form.” However, Lauren Ambrose’s Ophelia will say that to Stuhlbarg when he broods as the melancholy Dane. The Delacorte Theater substitutes for Elsinore in Oskar Eustis’s Shakespeare in the Park production. & Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 212-539-8500

Body Awareness

Performances begin May 28

Last winter, William and Mary college president Gene Nichol resigned amid controversy over a sex-workers art show that he’d allowed. Annie Baker’s play about explicit photographs on a college campus may not result in such high-level dismissals, but this controversy-baiting comedy will introduce New Yorkers to a much-talked-of young playwright. & Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street, 212-279-4200

Vincent River

Performances begin June 10

Hours and minutes (and, well, years) have gone by since New York audiences last enjoyed a Philip Ridley play, The Fastest Clock in the Universe. Now, as part of “Brits Off-Broadway,” Ridley returns with a two-hander about the mother of a murdered man and the teenager who found his body. & 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, 212-279-4200

Palace of the End

Performances begin June 11

The Iraq War has generated a few good plays (Pugilist Specialist, Stuff Happens) and many mediocre ones. We’re hoping to place Judith Thompson’s in the former category: She’s just won the Susan Smith Blackburn prize for this three-character drama concerning an imprisoned soldier, a weapons inspector, and a grieving mother. & Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, 212-279-4200


Performances begin June 12

When this Canadian “gay rap opera” debuted at last summer’s Fringe Festival, we remarked that it offered “a funny and devastating portrait of a gay couple and the violence that dooms them, all in rhyme. Throughout, the writing’s naughty and gorgeous.” Now, audiences will have another chance to hear these wrenching and raunchy bon mots, as the Zipper hosts rappers Feminem and T-Bag. & The Zipper Factory Theater, 336 West 37th Street, 212-352-3101

The Marriage of Bette and Boo

Performances begin June 13

Christopher Durang has wrung laughs from maritime disasters, serial murders, and maniacal nuns, so when he wrote the story of his parents’ marriage (a catalog of alcoholism, stillbirths, rancor, and divorce), of course he wrote it as a comedy. The Roundabout revives this 1985 tale of marital misery, starring Julie Hagerty. & Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th Street, 212-719-1300

Performances begin July 5

In [title of show], which debuted Off-Broadway two years ago, writer-performer Hunter Bell sang: “I pray/That Jesus Christ will help you get to Broadway/And you can thank him in your bio someday.” Now Bell has that chance, as his meta-theatrical musical—written with Jeff Bowen—hits the big time. Suddenly the “Tony Award Song” doesn’t seem so absurd. & Lyceum Theatre, 149 45th Street, 212-239-6200