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A CurtainUp Review
How about this showcase for David Greenspan as performer and playwright? At some selected performances the audience will have the opportunity to see two plays: The Patsy, a comedic relic from 1925 by Barry Conners and Jonas, a new monologue written by David Greenspan who is also the solo performer in both plays. The old play and the new monologue have been created as performance pieces each allowing the wonderfully talented Greenspan to be ingratiating and impressive in different ways. I would certainly recommend attending when both are being performed.
To introduce us to The Patsy, Greenspan steps gingerly into the simply evoked living room setting that designer Dane Laffrey has cleverly left sparse and receptive to Greenspan's more detailed description. He blithely fulfills a function that helps us to fully appreciate the residence of the Harringtons, a middle-class family in a medium size town. Greenspan also informs us that he will be playing all the roles, both male and female, a stunt that is certainly within his dramatic range.
That Greenspan is able to resuscitate The Patsy with more breatdh than it might otherwise rightfully deserve, as well as to take on the challenge of creating seven (four women and three men) distinct characters provides the fun. I'm not sure it is important to delve deeply into the plot or into the characters' motivations except to say that it is a Cinderella story.
Patricia Harrington is not as pretty or as popular as her older sister Grace. Nor is she the favorite of her mother. When Grace ditches her long-time boyfriend Tony Anderson for Billy Caldwell a young man in high society, Patricia uses the opportunity to get Tony to look at her romantically. But will Grace change her mind about Tony; will Mr. Harrington stop haranguing Mrs. Harrington and will everyone get what they deserve?
It is a predictable but palatable tour de force for Greenspan who keeps the marital and sisterly sparring at a fever pitch while also ascribing a gentle sweetness when and where it is necessary. Whatever appears to be a character's motivation or response is delightfully indicated by Greenspan, through a catalogue of endlessly amusing expressions and comically punctuated body language. Our gratitude is not for an opportunity to see this silly and inconsequential play (a hit in its time playing over 245 performances on Broadway) but to see how this abridged adaptation by Greenspan, director Jack Cummings III and Kristina Corcoran Williams for the Transport Group gives free rein and license to Greenspan's virtuosity.
In Jonas, a lyrical monologue, Greenspan probes the actor's mind, in this case his own, as he tries to understand and draw upon the full power and resources of his own as well as his character's creative imagination: the ability of the actor to expand upon the work of the playwright by fabricating a life for a character that becomes as real and as imaginary as is the one that belongs to the actor/portrayer.
It all becomes increasingly dense as well as purposely muddier as Greenspan, sits on a stool and speak directly to us. As he explains, "There are then the three of us, each inventing what I describe. There is myself, the character I once played, and the man he invents who invents what I describe." Setting off Greenspan's stream of projected consciousness is Jonas, the stiff-upper-lipped butler he played in the 2009 Broadway revival of The Royal Family. Greenspan's story-telling ability and the relentless intensity with which he imparts this cleverly concocted literary conceit are a little hard to follow. But how can you complain when he succeeds in keeping us intrigued.
With his voice, hands, and body in symbiotic alliance with his lyrical text, Greenspan serves as the medium between Jonas and McQuaid, the man Jonas has imagined but who also invents what Greenspan describes. Jonas is now presumably 133 years old and "lived through much." That " much" ; which began in 1927 polishing the silverware in the Cavandish household when he was 50 comprises the body of the monologue. And resorting to one last reference to Greenspan's text in which he says, "Is what I imagine a story or a play? Is it meant to be spoken or meant to be read?," I might add, you decide.
A fusion of memories, both imagined and imposed are conjured up: honkytonks and speakeasies, homosexual encounters sometimes channeled through Greenspan, sometimes through Jonas, and sometimes through McQuaid, who seems mostly confined (as we are reminded on a number of occasions) to a " desk at midnight, pencil in hand. . . " ;It becomes a question of who invented whom and to what end and at what point does the actor take control and become the final arbiter and auditor of a character's inner life.
So very esoteric and perhaps too obtuse and complicated for this brain of mine, I admit to being put in a kind of glazed daze before it was over. Perhaps Jonas is better appreciated when read, but that would do a disservice to its life as a play, or as it is imagined as a play as performed by Greenspan.
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