As a playwright, David Greenspan is as obsessed with the vagaries of success and failure, both commercially and artistically speaking, as the great comic novelist Dawn Powell. In his new play, Go Back To Where You Are (through May 1), which stuffs a whole kaleidoscope of narratives into 70 minutes, Greenspan appears to be partly under the influence of Chekhov’s The Seagull. His main female character, Claire (Lisa Banes), is a successful, respected actress much like the character of Arkadina in The Seagull, and her son, Wally (Michael Izquierdo), is torn between writing for television and directing ambitious theater projects (one of which is a series of actor improvisations based on Chekhov stories). Greenspan is most interested in contrasting the ultra-confident Claire, a woman who exudes success from every pore, with her meek friend Charlotte (Mariann Mayberry), who still struggles to get parts in regional theater. Both of them went to Julliard when they were younger, and Claire had a director husband, now 20 years deceased, for whom she did her most noted work. As the play sinuously unwinds itself, we gradually see how Claire feeds off Charlotte’s insecurity, so much so that she even deliberately impedes her friend’s audition prospects (we later learn that she’s capable of far worse). Greenspan finally views Claire with the same “what can you do?” awe that Chekhov reserves for Arkadina, and Banes makes sure to show us this woman’s private moments of anxious vulnerability as the character finds herself more isolated and stricken.
This story is only one of many in Go Back To Where You Are, and each of the stories told here is a play unto itself; deeply embedded in the various dramas is Greenspan himself as Passalus, a forgotten Greek chorus boy who falls in love with Claire’s experimental playwright brother, Bernard (Brian Hutchison), a stunned-looking man who posits himself as the author of the play we are watching. The characters often speak their most secret thoughts aloud to us, as if they can’t help themselves (“I have no humanity. I know that as much as anyone,” says Claire at one point), and when the actors are on stage but not involved in the scenes being played, they seem to be unusually affected by everything that is said and done, a risky theatrical idea that pays off constantly because all the actors in Go Back To Where You Are are so sensitively attuned to this stream-of-consciousness material. The play concludes in a rather romantic fashion, with Greenspan leaning into Hutchison at one point and flashing his teeth at us like Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955), but the troubling questions that have been raised about successful monsters and well-meaning failures in show business have already made their impact. Like practically everything else Greenspan touches at this point, as both actor and writer, Go Back To Where You Are is chewy, nourishing, unexpected, essential theater.
(photo: Joan Marcus)