The founder of the CFR, Leonard Jacobs, is fond of telling (and retelling) a story about actor-playwright-director David Greenspan. He was an intern — listings editor — at the long-ago-shuttered TheaterWeek magazine. Being besotted with theatre reviews from the late-19th and early-20th centuries, he was interested in becoming a late-20th and early-21st century critic himself.
Luckily, TheaterWeek’s editors had just made an expansive decision — to go well beyond the publishing of their usual slate of Broadway and Off-Broadway reviews and to recruit a flotilla of freelancers to review Off-Off-Broadway. Jacobs claims he was right out of the dramaturgical egg in those days, being a junior at NYU and all, but he was game to review any plays, musicals and odd whaddayacallits that he could see.
One such whaddayacallit was a play, 2 Samuel 11, Etc., that was being mounted at the HOME for Contemporary Theatre and Art in Soho. (HOME later evolved, more or less, into HERE.) A writerly riff on the eponymous Bible tale of David and Bathsheba, the play refocuses the narrative to the viewpoint of the woman — or at least until an engorged dollop of homoerotic content sneaks into the scene. The point seemed to be that Biblical erotica is not unusual. Greenspan masturbating at one moment in the play, however, certainly was.
Greenspan probably isn’t asked much about 2 Samuel 11, and why would he be? With five Obies to his name, he is a touchstone of theatrical New York, an artist more versatile than a 19-year-old Cirque du Soleil gymnast, but darker, more wry, more sardonic, more character-driven, more channeling of character and soul. In response to a CFR request, Greenspan’s current bio was provided, and this, below, is just a sliver of the Greenspan span:
The Haunted Inn (Target Margin), Marie Antoinette (A.R.T/Yale Rep), Melancholy Play (13P); two performance Obies: one for Some Men and Goethe’s Faust, one for The Boys in the Band; solo renditions of Barry Conners’ The Patsy and Gertrude Stein’s lecture, Plays; and his own plays, most notably Dead Mother at the Public, She Stoops to Comedy (Obie) and Go Back to Where You Are at Playwrights Horizons, The Argument (Obie) with Target Margin, The Myopia with The Foundry and Coraline (w/Stephin Merritt) at MCC. Obie Sustained Achievement.
Greenspan just completed a super-short (nine-day) run of a new play called queerSpawn, by Mallery Avidon, directed by Jesse Geiger and produced by A Collection of Shiny Objects at HERE. The play tinkers with perspective, curiously Greenspan-style, all over again, this time considering the mind-frame of a small-town high school freshman with two moms. Greenspan doesn’t play the freshman (although its imaginable), he plays Dan Savage, the syndicated sex columnist and “It Gets Better” creator. Or, to be more precise, he portrayed Savage in a work that was (and is) as fantastical as Greenspan is himself. Naturally.
And now, 5 questions David Greenspan has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I don’t recall a particularly perceptive question. People have periodically made insightful comments about my work — either as an actor or a playwright. But I don’t recall anything specific.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I’ve never been asked an idiotic question. Occasionally someone will frame a negative or hostile comment as a question. Here, too, I’m hard pressed to recall one. But I wouldn’t refer to any genuine question in negative terms.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Someone once asked me a strange question. But I’m reluctant to repeat it — at the risk of hurting the person’s feelings.
4) You played Dan Savage, who was played in The Kid by Christopher Sieber. When you’re playing a character who is a real person as played by another real person, is that disorienting? Irrelevant? Is the key to your performance found in the semi-fantastical nature of Mallery Avidon’s play?
I have fond memories of working with Chris years ago in a revival of The Boys in the Band — he gave a very fine performance. I knew he had acted in The Kid but didn’t realize he was playing Dan Savage…I didn’t follow stories or reviews of the show carefully.
Nonetheless, I have every reason to believe that Dan Savage is represented quite differently in Mallery’s play. And yes, Mallery’s writing dictated my approach to the role.
5) What roles are you read for or cast in more regularly than you’d like? Conversely, what roles are you not read for or cast in as much as you ought to be? What can or do you do about it?
For film or television work I’ve been brought in to read for stereotypical gay characters that have not been written with any particular insight. By stereotype, I mean characters some might refer to as queeny. My auditions for those roles are invariably poor.
6) If, in the next five minutes, mankind emerged from an egg and begged you to furnish a playwright’s insight into the distinctions between humor, wit, satire and parody, what would you say?
Not being a theatre theoretician, I couldn’t answer the question with any authority. But here is what I think and what I know: humor finds expression in many different ways; I associate wit with quickness of mind and intelligence. According to Aristotle, Hegemon of Thasos was the inventor of parody; according to George S. Kaufman, satire is what closes on Saturday night.