Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Kate Eastwood Norris(foreground) with Gia Mora, Jenna Sokolowski, Daniel Frithand Michael Russotto (Photo: Stan Barouh)
David Greenspan’s She Stoops to Comedy is a fun loving riff on the spirit Shakespeare, fracturing time and spatial settings while pushing gender-bending to hilarious extremes. Showcasing some of the finest talent in the Washington area, the play is a multilayered (sometimes multidimensional) take on the Bard’s As You Like It, exploring aspects of love and longing, personal expression, and mistaken identity (of course), all rolled into a comical celebration of theater.
Filled with clever dialogue, allusions to pop culture, and reference to current events, the play makes you look at simple everyday life from different perspectives to discover the magic, wonder and beauty of what’s right in front of you. That’s what happens to the characters in the play as they set up their own scenes, work through action plots, develop their own back stories on the spot and come to life in the moment.
As the pivotal character Harry/Alexandra, Michael Russotto shimmers and shines. The play opens on him as a frustrated writer, sprawled out on the floor in various positions trying with all his might to get some traction working through a scene, talking through the characters, considering various devices. His friend Kay Fein (stunningly played by Kate Eastwood Norris) enters, and before you know it, Russotto emerges from the bathroom with just a change in demeanor and voice, as one of his female characters, Alexandra Page—the names being early hints of the zany theatrical devices used throughout.
Russotto’s Page is a self-absorbed actress who still loves her spurned lover who has bolted to prove herself in a summer stock theater production of As You Like It. When Page pursues her by lowering her voice and winning the role of Orlando, she gets a chance to woo her all over again. The writing and affectations are so effective, that mental gymnastics are not needed to keep up with a male actor playing a female, who pretends to be a male. The premise that Greenspan makes clear in his stage notes and instructions is that no outward manifestations of disguises can be made, especially no "drag." The characterizations must be more subtle and internal, thus, making the audience bring more imagination to the table, no spoon feeding allowed. Russotto brings a fetchingly sweet quality to his character Page that works and is fun to watch.
One of the most fascinating scenes that will keep you in stitches is Norris’ bit when she plays two characters, who of course are never in the same room until the end when they "confront" each other with hilarious results. That scene alone is easily worth the price of the ticket. Daniel Escobar tackles his character’s strange confessional twists with zeal as Simon Languish (yes, the name says it all), and Daniel Firth as the director Hal Stewart solidly delivers some of the most touching moments as he explores his own approach to life and relationships with his trusted assistant in the ever-present bed that gets wheeled around on stage with loving abandon.
"Hilarity ensues" instead of "chaos reigns" because the piece is in the talented hands of director Howard Shalwitz whose trust in the integrity of the material, solid psychological underpinnings, and impeccable timing make everything zing. Tony Cisek’s setting design is also effective with the entire set framed in a huge yet unimposing Elizabethan arch, a constant reminder of life as theater.
Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Angels in America says that Greenspan is "…probably all-round the most talented theater artist of my generation. He fuse(s) psychologically grounded American narrative realism with high modernism’s philosophical concerns… including [how] the theater is the perfect metaphor for human consciousness." Plus, he makes it all look so easy. She Stoops to Comedy engages the audience on so many levels and is just downright fun.
(Running time: approx. 90 minutes). She Stoops to Comedy plays to April 22, 2007 at Woolley Mammoth Theater, 641 D Street, N.W., Washington, DC. Tickets: $32-$52. To order, click here or call the Box Office: (202) 393- 3939.