BWW Review: David Greenspan Flies Solo in Eugene O'Neill's STRANGE INTERLUDE
To give credit where it's due, Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer-winning STRANGE INTERLUDE is perhaps the best play imaginable about women's sexuality that could have been written by a 35-year-old American man in 1923.
To borrow a phrase from Amy Schumer the play chronicles the f**kable days of it central character, Nina Leeds (first played by Lynn Fontanne, who was succeeded on Broadway by Judith Anderson and then Gale Sondergaard), the daughter of a New England college professor who is devastated when her exceedingly handsome and fit fiancé dies in The Great War.
Significant in her sorrow is that she never had sex with her golden boy. She accepts the friendship, but not the passion for her, of novelist Charles Marsden and has many affairs before settling down to marry the pleasant Sam Evans. But after becoming pregnant, she discovers that insanity runs in Sam's family, so she secretly has an abortion and immediately gets pregnant again via her doctor, Ned. Nina and Ned fall in love, but through her years no man can ever outshine her memory of her fallen warrior.
But it's not the plot that STRANGE INTERLUDE is famous for. O'Neill incorporated a soliloquy technique, where actors say their lines and then turn towards the audience to speak their characters' inner thoughts. As a result, STRANGE INTERLUDE takes about five hours to perform and is traditionally played with a dinner break.
Directed by Jack Cummings III, the new Transport Group production, which begins at 5pm and is completed by 11pm, is played with two intermissions and a half hour break where audience members can enjoy a pre-ordered meal and, no-doubt, discuss the remarkable performance of the evening's only cast member, David Greenspan.
The 5-time Obie-honored actor and playwright, dressed by designer Dane Laffrey in a simple period suit, plays every role, speaks every word and performs every soliloquy. In lesser hands the feat would appear comical, but the playwright's somewhat overwritten text allows for a graceful subtlety, allowing the actor to glide from the spineless intellectual Charles to the manipulative Nina to the naïve Sam with only the slightest of physical and vocal variations.
One of the most effective aspects of the staging is how the director and actor create the visual of people talking to one another. At one moment Greenspan may be one character speaking, then without changing his position, on the next line he's a different character replying. Or he's the same character listening to someone else.
Most of the play is performed at a clipped pace, and there are times when the actor even appears to have the characters overlapping each other.
For the set, Laffrey has built twin jewel box stages inside the huge Irondale Theater Center, giving the audience about a minute to switch playing spaces (and stretch a bit) between the play's nine acts. Seating is in the balcony for the final two acts, with a long stage suspended above the building's floor.
While the idea of a "One-Man STRANGE INTERLUDE" smells of a self-promoting circus trick, this is by all means an extraordinary, well-thought production featuring one of New York's top-shelf stage actors in extraordinary form. Don't be surprised if you're not only captivated by David Greenspan's insightful performance, but if you find yourself wanting to cheer him on to the final line.