- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

Is there anything more crowd-pleasing, for both the audience and the actors, than a play within a play?

David Greenspan’s tongue-in-cheeky farce “She Stoops to Comedy” is about the creative process of writing and staging a play and also is a riotous pastiche of allusions to Shakespeare’s cross-dressing romantic comedies; writers Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein; and the campy drag works of Charles Busch and Charles Ludlam.

Literary and theatrical references are tossed out with breakneck velocity, and the actors switch genres and genders at the pace of a film on fast-forward. Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz maintains an atmosaphere of carefully controlled mayhem throughout, knowing exactly when to hem in the cast a bit and when to let the actors go brilliantly bonkers.

Mr. Greenspan played the lead, Alexandra Page — a lesbian actress who goes really butch to win back her estranged lover — in the original New York production, and so “She Stoops to Comedy” is an actor’s dream. The top-notch cast gets to frolic in gender-bending roles, double and even triple up on characters and step in and out of the action to make droll comments about art and artifice.

The Elizabethan convention of young men playing female roles, an homage to the Ferenc Molnar play “The Guardsman” and the ultimate scheming-actress movie “All About Eve” form the crux of Mr. Greenspan’s far-reaching and vastly entertaining comedy.

Alexandra (Michael Russotto) is a seasoned stage actress, in the manner of grande dame Lynn Fontanne, who has played everything from Phaedra in an astronaut suit to the female lead in an experimental work called “Biff at Colonus.” When her young lover, Allison Rose (Gia Mora), decides to give up musical comedy (“How many times can you be a cockeyed optimist — in Pittsburgh?” Alexandra quips) for something weightier, like Shakespeare, Alexandra fears she may be permanently cast aside as well.

Disguising herself as a man named Harry with “a little spirit gum and an ace bandage,” Alexandra auditions for the role of Orlando opposite Allison’s Rosalind in a summer-stock production of “As You Like It.” These being theater folk — and, more important, theater folk who are out-of-town — romances and amorous pursuits proliferate among the cast and crew. Allison finds herself pulling an Anne Heche and suddenly being attracted to men, specifically Harry.

On the other hand, Harry is the object of desire of an unhappy homosexual actor named Simon Languish (Daniel Escobar), whose frustration over playing a string of stereotypical roles boils over one drunken night in a dazzling monologue that’s a hilarious and heartbreaking riff on the phrase “who needs a play about a gay man …?” Other pairings include the unctuous director Hal Stewart (Daniel Frith) and his much savvier assistant Eve Addaman (Jenna Sokolowski) and the tempestuous relationship between hilariously affected actress Jayne Summerhouse and lighting designer-archaeologist (depending on the changing whims and revisions of the playwright) Kay Fein, both played by Kate Eastwood Norris. In the second-act highlight, Miss Norris gets to have a huge row, followed by make-up sex, with herself, and she whips between the two roles with dizzying aplomb, even turning her flubs into comedic gold.

“She Stoops to Comedy” gets bogged down by the weight of its ideas and ambitions, especially in the drawn-out and disjointed second act. But when it’s firing on all cylinders, there isn’t a funnier or more exuberantly acted show in town.


WHAT: “She Stoops to Comedy” by David Greenspan

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through April 22.

TICKETS: $32 to $52

PHONE: 202/393-3939


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