Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Myopia/Plays


The Myopia by David Greenspan, Plays by Gertrude Stein. Directed by Brian Mertes. Atlantic Stage 2. Through February 7.

Most critics are left in wonder of David Greenspan and his ability to transport audiences with the power of speech. He plays dozens of characters in The Myopia, which on weekends he performs in a double feature with Gertrude Stein's Plays. Frank Scheck, writing for the New York Post finds the exercise pretentious, but even he is taken by Greenspan's transformation into the various characters.

Time Out New York A+
(David Cote) In a culture as supersaturated with digital eye candy as ours, David Greenspan’s solo coup The Myopia is nothing short of revolutionary. Greenspan devotees know already that he is a one-man cabinet of wonders, voice fluting up from tenor to falsetto, delicate hands slicing and molding the air as if it were an endless supply of clay, while he navigates 20 characters and half a dozen genres with quicksilver aplomb. And he does it without special lighting or sound effects or even leaving his chair. Sounds low on visual thrills? Then you don’t know how to see.

The New York Times A+
(Charles Isherwood) Strictly speaking “The Myopia” is a one-man show, the brown paper bag of contemporary New York theater. Yet you emerge from this brilliant and bewildering production, directed by Brian Mertes, feeling dazzled and disoriented, as if you’d just seen a splashy Disney musical crossed with a Greek tragedy and a kitchen-sink drama, or maybe an evening of Samuel Beckett plays as staged by Florenz Ziegfeld. With this unique and strangely bewitching work Mr. Greenspan, a quirky downtown actor and an avant-garde playwright, proves himself once again to be a theatrical conjurer of rare gifts. Using just the words he has written and the music of his voice, he fills the imagination of the audience with images of pathos and comedy, of fantasy and absurdity, that do not exactly cohere to create a sensible narrative — au contraire! — but leave a fizzy sense of excitement, the giddy elation that follows a great fireworks display.

Backstage A
(Jason Fitzgerald) Rather than summarize the Tilt-a-Whirl of interrelated stories Greenspan's play tells, it's better to sample some of his more memorable moments. A testy Rapunzel figure sings a haunting rendition of the title song from "Funny Girl" in the shower. Henry Cabot Lodge orchestrates a smoky gathering of senators into giving the dull-witted Warren G. Harding the 1920 Republican nomination. (I didn't know how many varieties of fussy aristocratic male there could be until Greenspan played 13 of them.) A glowing, anthropomorphic orb ruminates over the scattered papers of its dead father. Koreen, a jealous giant, tears down her husband's castle and runs to the ocean, where she converses with her Poseidonlike father. In this new twist on meta-theater—a play-within-a-bunch-of-plays-within-a-playwright—Greenspan contains multitudes.

The Village Voice A
(Alexis Soloski) "Plays," as penned by Stein, is not edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Crafted in Stein's famously recursive prose, it is a drowsy meditation on stage action vs. audience emotion and poetry vs. prose, rendered as a series of cumbersome koans. "It is always the most interesting thing about anything to know whether you hear or you see," declares Stein. And, "All this is very important, and important for me and important, just important." It's certainly important for Greenspan, who in his own writing continues Stein's fascination with language and sometimes adopts her deliberate plotlessness. (Of course, Greenspan also delights in complicated storytelling and lavish characterization, techniques Stein does not embrace.) Here, he devotes himself to enlivening Stein's somnolent sentences.

Variety A
(Sam Thielman) Greenspan has said in interviews that he hates expensive pyrotechnic stage magic. In "Myopia," he explains why, when, after observing teasingly that some extremely successful shows are "inherently untheatrical," he simply tells us about a location and we are there with him -- no FX necessary. This seems simpler than it is. In order to create a place on the stage, after all, the only thing you need to do is describe it adequately. But Greenspan's great gift is the ability to read any line with total conviction. When he employs that gift here, he's able to tell us about crazy, ridiculous things -- a woman whose hand is bigger than her husband! A husband who's writing a musical about Warren G. Harding! Warren G. Harding, frustrated with a donkey named Dearie! -- and we accept them without question.

Gothamist B
(John Del Signore) Much of your enjoyment of this peculiar monologue depends on your appreciation for David Greenspan, but I don't know how one could not be charmed by this inimitable raconteur. If his goal of transporting audiences merely with the incantatory power of words sometimes fails to take flight, it's worth sticking around for the moments that soar.

On Off Broadway B-
(Matt Windman) Greenspan's ability to spin so many story strands at once with relative ease is a marvel to behold, yet it all eventually feels monotonous and physically underwhelming. It would serve Greenspan well to trim the show's 100-minute length and remove the intermission.

New York Post D+
(Frank Scheck) The Myopia" is sup posed to be a clear- eyed look at theater, but only the truly pretentious will see it that way. So dense is David Greenspan's theatrical collage -- which touches on the political machinations of Warren G. Harding, the philosophy of Aristotle and more -- that you feel compelled to present your academic credentials on the way in. Dubbed "An Epic Burlesque of Tragic Proportions," the evening isn't without its entertaining moments, thanks to its charismatic writer/performer.

TONY A+ 14; The New York Times A+ 14; Backstage A 13; Village Voice A 13; Variety A 13; GIST B 10; On Off Broadway B- 9; New York Post D+ 5; TOTAL: 91/8 = 11.38 (B+)

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