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    Marissa Copeland and David Greenspan. in She Stoops to Comedy
    Marissa Copeland and David Greenspan.

    Double drag

    "She Stoops to Conquer," with its female character in drag played by the male playwright in his street clothes, is a self-referential theater in-joke that suffers in the transition from downtown to uptown.


    David Greenspan's latest work, "She Stoops to Comedy," is poised to sweep the Obies this year and I am not sure why. (Everyone else liked it, could I have seen it on a bad night? Do shows uptown have bad nights?) In his play about how an author writes a play (I need a new character, 'k. fine. I'll call her Kay Fein), Greenspan's roles as director, author, actor and character are constantly being alluded to throughout the performance. When not in the scene, he sits on the sidelines and watches the action. The characters reference themselves in frequent interior monologues (the audience thinks the other characters can hear me speaking now!) which is a clever if ubiquitous device used liberally throughout this piece.

    Written and directed by: David Greenspan.
    Cast: Mia Barron, Marissa Copeland, David Greenspan, E. Katherine Kerr, T. Ryder Smith, Philip Tabor.
    Playwrights Horizons
    416 West 42nd St.
    Previews start: April 3, 2003
    April 13-27, 2003

    It was almost exciting to see the downtown aesthetic of the late eighties/early nineties (when Greenspan first made his mark) dusted off for an uptown audience, but a certain glam and glamour was gone. Greenspan plays an actress dressing in drag and so actually looks just like himself in street clothes (the play's Big Idea!). Heavily schooled in the trademark style of the Theater of the Ridiculous, Greenspan strips down gay stereotypes into a bland, gap aesthetic for this show. While Charles Busch made his drag queen into Linda Lavin for Broadway's "Allergist's Wife," Greenspan takes the repackaging a step further. In an attempt to scrub away queeny clichs (while still playing a queen), Greenspan decamps the camp — not just taking out the drag queens but playing it straight — creating a new hyperminimalist, supposedly intellectual camp style that's just not as fun.

    It was exciting that a minor character who had previously delivered only a handful of lines seemed about to hijack the play, but then he quickly recessed into the background once again.  

    Greenspan alludes to Charles Ludlam's most famous work, "Irma Vep," by attributing the generic line "I beg your pardon" to the legendary scribe, but his script makes you think more of Ludlam's "How to Write a Play." The play's play is about Alexandra Page, a lesbian actress whose lover Alison gets a role in a Maine production of "As You Like It." The promising young male lead — a French-Canadian with a speech impediment, drops out and Alexandra decides that she in disguise will try out for the male lead. Greenspan spoofs independent film directors with the Hal Hartleyesque character Hal Stewart who directs the Maine production with a Shakespearean cast of four and is well played by Philip Tabor. The script is very fey and endlessly self-referential — joking about postmodern theater and What is it? and Are we it?

    The costumes looked like the actors' own clothes. The set was curtainless and bare except for a bed. The seeming economy of the production values didn't jibe with the Playwrights Horizon's shiny new Peter Jay Sharp Theater with its uncomfortable college lecture hall style seats. (Has the rowdy, raucous, seamy downtown theater been transformed into a Starbucks-Ikea like existence? Is this success?)

      T. Ryder Smith (center) with Marissa Copeland and David Greenspan. in She Stoops to Comedy
      T. Ryder Smith (center) with Marissa Copeland and David Greenspan.
    The actors play it straight and under par with the possible exception of Greenspan, whose lesbian actress was more of a photocopied version of the homosexual male stereotypes — as actor T. Ryder Smith bemoans in his very long, almost exhilarating monologue about gay clichs in the theater. What was exciting about this moment is that it seemed a minor character who had previously delivered only a handful of lines, was about to hijack the play — taking center stage for about ten minutes, saying repetitively: Who needs another play about a gay man who _______ ? (Fill in the blanks: is a hairdresser, has AIDS, is lonely, etc.) But then he quickly recesses into the background once again.

    This sweet-spirited play (I wished I liked it, I wanted to like it) would have been fun in a dusty storefront ten years ago with a little more moxie, but the humor was too in-crowd droll to be funny here, especially when stripped of the high-energy supertheatricality of the downtown theatrical milieu of the nineties, palpably missing from this production.

    APRIL 24, 2003

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