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Exhibit A: She Stoops To Comedy At The Evidence Room
Roll over, Oscar Wilde. The funniest, most absurd, most farcical show in town is David Greenspan's She Stoops To Comedy at the Evidence Room.
Tony Kushner has called playwright Greenspan "probably all-round the most talented theater artist of my generation." He is one of the few modern playwrights we have ever experienced who writes for the theatre as theatre, with all the possibilities of talking to the audience, making fun of the form, and loving plays for themselves. This isn't a screenplay, or realism-naturalism-Mametism, or another plate of Pinter. This is something special.
Actress Alexandra Page (John Fleck) decides to disguise herself as a man to be with her runaway girlfriend, actress Alison Rose (Dorie Barton), in a production of As You Like It in Maine. (The role of Alexandra is always played by a man, and Greenspan himself played it in the original production.) Alexandra-in-drag tries to seduce Alison-in-Maine without Alison realizing her true identity.
A lot of simple farce happens from mistaken identity subplots, from jokes at the expense of every acting and theatre stereotype, and from Fleck trying to not reveal his "breasts." In a strange way, Alexandra is the straight man of this production. Although her role is a double gender-bend, her part in the story requires her to tone down the hilarious diva we see in the first scene and play it cool so Alison won't recognize her. This means that John Fleck gets to be a man playing a diva pretending to be a man, and that the other characters get to make fun of Alexandra and he can't retaliate.
Greenspan's writing uses every kind of humorous device from situational to linguistic. Alexandra takes cell-phone calls in the bathroom, pretending to be back at home, while hoping Alison won't overhear her in the next room. Simon Languish (Tony Abatemarco) insists on restarting his own confused love scene with Alexandra-in-drag every time something goes wrong in his plot of seduction. The actors have a Pirandelloesque control over the direction of the plot, yet they are all caught up in their own emotional dramas.
Shannon Holt plays a double role and a double entendre as the ex-lovers Kay Fein, archaeologist/lighting designer, and Jayne Summerhouse, diva. She quips to the audience, "I hope we don't have a scene together," and of course they do - an extended masterpiece of comic writing. It's just Kay, Jayne, a spotlight, and one very brave actress, and it's the funniest thing we've ever seen or hope to see. (Somebody needs to give Shannon Holt her own television show.)
But the humor we most appreciated in Greenspan's play was perhaps the simplest. He has fun with language. He spends entire minutes of stage time on puns and malapropisms, introducing one character to another and having them mishear the name, over and over and over again. And then he does the same thing when a new character is introduced.
Greenspan is a very literate playwright. He references James Joyce when Alison and Eve (Mandy Freund) describe an entire scene through questions and answers. But all his cleverness is always at the service of the joke and the plot, and the audience we saw this show with was thoroughly entertained.
It takes restraint in direction and design to stand up to writing as ornate as this, and the team of Bart DeLorenzo (direction), Lap-Chi Chiu (lights) and Dorie Barton (costume) have definitely held back the special effects. There are almost no lighting cues. The set is a bed and a few chairs. The blocking, although masterfully shaped, is simple. Everything has been stripped away, even the sound design (there is none) so that the language and the actors can take precedence. It's a gamble, but with this cast and this play, it works perfectly. All you can think about is the play of words and the superb performances.
The cast also features a very believable Sean Runnette as a put-upon director, the simplest character of the bunch. She Stoops To Comedy performs Thursday through Sunday at the Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd between Virgil and Alvarado. Tickets $15-$20. Reservations: (213) 381-7118. Truckloads of free parking are available both on Beverly and on the San Francisquesque network of sloping side streets further south. If you don't go see this show, and love it, you can't call yourself an actor any more.