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A CurtainUp Review

She Stoops to Comedy

All I do is tragic women. . . I want to have some fun.
---Alexa, before breaking that tragic spell as Orlando in a production of As You Like It.
T. Ryder Smith, E. Katherine Kerr, Marissa Copeland, David Greenspan
T. Ryder Smith, E. Katherine Kerr, Marissa Copeland, David Greenspan
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Meet Alexandra Page, a tempestuous lesbian actress who has good cause to be depressed. Her career is going nowhere and neither is her relationship with her lover. As played by David Greenspan, who also wrote and directed Alexandra's story, expect her despair to be a hilarious, high-voltage rant chockfull of observations about the theater in general; and, with a title like She Stoops to Comedy, don't be surprised if the play is a modern tale with old theatrical links.

While I'm usually leery of plays starring and directed by their author, Greenspan makes a brilliant case for the triple threat approach. He has created a terrific role for himself, without short-changing his collaborators. The play overall is challenging -- avant-garde and yet accessible enough for anyone willing to stretch themselves to meet Greenspan's deconstructivist's imagination half way to have a wonderful time. His direction is inventive and his acting sets the standard for all around performance excellence. Playwrights Horizon couldn't have picked a better play to launch its new smaller second stage which is dedicated to nourishing fresh talent and enabling experienced playwrights like Greenspan to push their creative envelopes.

Stylistically this world premiere is a sendup of Elizabethan theatrical conventions -- disguise, soliloquies, audience asides -- and what better way to do so than to wrap the play within one of Shakespeare's best known disguise comedies, As You Like It.

It's hard to harness the eighty minute happenings to a conventional plot summary, but here's how the play we see evolves into the play within it: Allison Rose (Marissa Copeland), Alexandra's girlfriend is about to head for Maine where's she's been cast as Rosalind in a production of As You Like It. Shades of Molnar's plot device in The Guardsman and Mozart's in cosi Fan Tutte (The Guardsman, in case you forgot, has a jealous actor decides to test his wife's fidelity by wooing her in disguise), Alexa, hoping to salvage his rocky relationship, decides to try out for the part of Orlando.

The staging is bare bones, with the only scenic prop a brass bed near the front of the Peter Jay Sharp Theater's deep stage (the stage is as deep and wide as the seating area). For all the simplicity of the production, it's all , as one of the play's characters observes, "very complicated." since nothing follows typical theatrical custom so that at times the script is revised on the spot, as when Greenspain steps out of character and remarks "that's a typo." Complicated as it may be, you do catch on.

The actors enter from upstage and walk forward, as for a reading, then disperse and it's quickly apparent that the side section where Greenspan positions himself for his opening monologue is the bathroom where he is (supposedly invisible to the audience) putting on his Orlando disguise as a man, properly flat chested and with hair on his arms that he quips "once belonged to Laurence Olivier." Once you buy into this set-up it's not hard to figure out when E. Katherine Kerr is Kay Fein and when she's Jayne Summerhouse (a sly nod to a Jane Bowles character of that name).

Alexa's disguise is, of course, Greenspan looking exactly like himself . That "disguise" established, it's on to Maine and the audition with director Hal Stewart (Philip Tabor supplying the right touch of Hollywood guy trying to be arty guy) and his assistant and girlfriend Eve Addaman (Mia Barron as a rather minor chracter whose name is something of a running joke). To add to the fun of Greenspan and Copeland's newly blossoming romance courtesy of their As You Like It disguises, the various characters often shift mood and identity in mid-scene and deliver monologues.

One quite touching monologue comes from another wittily named character, Simon Languish (T. Ryder Smith). True to his fictional name Smith starts out as a background figure but explodes into a tour-de-force biographical riff in which he sums himself up as a walking cliche. If this were a musical, it would be a ballad titled " Who Needs Another Actor?" Best of all is E. Katherine Kerr's spot-on soliloquy in which she switches from her stage lighting designer to her archeologoist persona with drop-dead timing. At one point she hilariously scolds herself for getting her roles mixed up.

Ultimately She Stoops to Comedy is an extended intellectual joke disguised as a comedy -- but that joke is genuinely funny and subversively thought-provoking. With a closing date set for the end of the month, catch it while you can.

Written and Directed by David Greenspan
Cast: Starring David Greenspan; with Mia Barron, Marissa Copeland, E. Katherine Kerr, T. Ryder Smith, Philip Tabor
Set Design: Michael Brown,
Costume Design: Miranda Hoffman
Lighting Design: Matthew Frey
Running time: 80 minutes, without intermission
Playwrights Horizon, Peter Jay Sharp Theater , 416 West 42nd Street 212/ 279-4200,
From 4/03/03-4/27/03; opening 4/13/03
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 PM & 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM & 7 PM. Tickets are $30 with $10 cash Student Rush Tickets on day of performance.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 4/12/03 press performance

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