Performance diary: David Greenspan’s THE MYOPIA

January 24, 2010

January 16 –
I often feel unsettled by how cranky and picky I am about theater. Will nothing satisfy me? Then something comes along to remind me that, yes, excellence in theater is totally possible. The latest example: David Greenspan’s The Myopia. Greenspan is a major cultural hero of mine, and virtually everything he’s involved with piques my interest. His participation as an actor or adaptor in other people’s work amps up the excellence factor tenfold. And his own work is practically unparalleled. With The Myopia, beautifully produced by the Foundry Theatre and skillfully directed by Brian Mertes, Greenspan is at the peak of his form. As a playwright, he is inventive, poetic, hilarious, entertaining, and erudite all at once. As a performer, he is an absolute master of economy in gesture, vocal dexterity, and focus. How is it possible that this one man can appear onstage with no props other than a wooden armchair and a water bottle and keep 100 people mesmerized and barely breathing for two hours? It’s possible because Greenspan is a rare breed of theatrical showman who is also a philosopher and teacher, in a smart, engaging, and charismatic way. The Myopia is a play that he wrote ten years ago (it was published in Yale’s Theater journal and is available online as a PDF here), and he’s performed it under limited circumstances before. The Foundry is presenting it in tandem with weekend performances of Gertrude Stein’s Plays, a lecture about theater that Greenspan makes hilariously entertaining but also lucid and extremely illuminating. These works are all part of Greenspan’s ongoing work in the theater, which operates at the highest level of scholarship and passion. A couple of years ago Target Margin produced The Argument, which was Greenspan’s explication of Aristotle’s Poetics – again, an excellent and entertaining stylized performance that digests Aristotle in a way I’d never encountered before. The Myopia tells a very elaborate story with four interwoven strands having to do with Warren G. Harding, a man writing a musical about Harding, his wife who’s a fairy-tale princess (she starts off as a Rapunzel-like character in a tower and ends up a gigantess whose fist is bigger than her husband), and a narrator/orator and his doppelganger, who sounds remarkably like Carol Channing. It sounds crazy and impossible, and nothing is more thrilling than a theater artist pulling off something crazy and impossible. Greenspan is one of those geniuses of the theater (not really comparable to anybody else, but of the caliber of Charles Ludlam). If I were a nominator for the MacArthur Foundation fellowships (aka “genius grants”), I’d be militating for Greenspan big-time. But I’d also nominate Foundry Theatre maestro Melanie Joseph for that honor as well. The Myopia is only the latest in a long string of eccentric, brilliant theater pieces she’s sponsored.

Excited packed house for the show. Also in the audience: Andrea Stevens, who was my editor for years at the New York Times, and theater critic-scholar Eileen Blumenthal. I went with Marta and Andy, who both loved it as well. Andy and I had dinner at Suenos, yummy Mexican/Southwestern food, where we spotted David Byrne at a nearby table.

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