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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: David Greenspan Goes Solo in The Patsy and Take Me Out Prompts a Mets Memory

Also, a note on New York theatre's Lenape Land Acknowledgements

Every week I write this column from six stories above pavement built on a small patch of the Lenapehoking...

...the traditional homelands of the Lenape People, who through colonization were forcibly removed from the island they named Mannahatta.

I don't think about this every day, but it's appropriate to mention it to kick off this week's column, as I've had Land Acknowledgement on my mind. As you may recall, this was one of the issues that was at the forefront of the Diversity Movement that gained increased momentum while the theatres were closed.

When the Dutch first arrived in lower Mannahatta and named their settlement new Amsterdam, the Lenape establish fur trade with them via a route that stretched the entire island and further north onto the continent's mainland. The Lenape called it Wickquasgeck. With business booming, the Dutch increased its width so much that when the British took over the city and changed its name to New York, they began calling the street Broadway.

When theatres started opening up again last summer, I did notice many New York productions had begun including Land Acknowledgements as part of their preshow announcement, but that number seems to have dwindled down.

A good deal of Off and Off-Off Broadway houses/companies have publicly recognized the land stewardship of the Lenape People through signage and notes in programs and on websites, but I think the preshow announcements add a significant communal aspect to their words.

It was especially thoughtful, when seeing Sam Chanse's "what you are now" at Ensemble Studio Theatre, that the preshow announcement not only acknowledged the Lenape, but also, since this was a play involving scientific research, called attention to people who involuntarily participated in scientific experiments without receiving compensation. Also, kudos to Broken Box Mime Theater, for their announcement suggesting people visit the website of The Lenape Center for further information.

The recipient of six Obie Awards in a career that spans over 40 years of work in Off- and Off-Off Broadway theatre...

...David Greenspan might rightfully be regarded as a quintessential New York theatre artist. Looking at even a partial list of his credits as an actor, playwright and director shows that rarely do seasons go by when he isn't involved with some stage venture in town.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: David Greenspan Goes Solo in The Patsy and Take Me Out Prompts a Mets Memory
David Greenspan (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Until recently, the last production I saw him in was Transport Group's revival of Eugene O'Neill's 5-hour long 1932 psychological drama, Strange Interlude -- a play famous for continually having characters speak to each other and then reveal their inner thoughts in soliloquys -- where he played all eight characters.

An insane idea, for sure, but a theatre experience that achieved the kind of extraordinarily memorable impact that only insane ideas are capable of.

But before that, back in 2011, Greenspan turned a much lighter fare into a charming solo presentation; Barry Connors' 1925 romantic comedy, The Patsy. His acclaimed performance is now being brought back -- produced, as it was then, by Transport Group and directed, as was Strange Interlude, by the company's artistic director Jack Cummings III -- for a run at the Abrons Arts Center.

I enjoyed a phone chat with Greenspan this week, where he told me that Cummings first proposed that they collaborate on a more famous piece, John Van Druten's I Remember Mama, but the actor didn't feel that particular play was right for him. (Cummings instead directed I Remember Mama for Transport Group in a wonderful production that had an ensemble of ten older actresses playing all the roles.)

But Greenspan recalled being delighted by a silent screen adaptation of The Patsy, where Marion Davies starred as the overshadowed daughter of a domineering mother played by Marie Dressler.

"It's a Cinderella story," says the actor. "I think everyone can relate to a Cinderella story; feeling the less loved and the less beautiful and the less appreciated."

So what was originally a three-act evening of old school Broadway, was trimmed down to a touching, funny, and expertly played 80 minutes, removing dated jokes with now-obscure punch lines and streamlining the storytelling.

Given his status as a downtown theatre mainstay, I asked Greenspan what he might say about Off- and Off-Off Broadway to those who regard New York theatre mainly as what's presented around Times Square.

"It's really the seat of new play development," he explains. "There's a fermenting process in the Off- and Off-Off Broadway settings. You're going to see a more adventurous type of theatre, and some of the really adventurous ones don't get to Broadway."

When I asked about the changes he's seen in Off- and Off-Off Broadway theatre through the decades, he notes, "A lot of it has to do with real estate."

"As things became more expensive, it was harder to maintain smaller venues. I started at a place called HOME for Contemporary Theatre, which was on Walker Street, but you can't open theatres in TriBeCa anymore. Happily, there are very fine companies producing in Brooklyn and Queens."

And Greenspan remains optimistic about the future of New York's smaller theatres.

"There are young people who come in, and they're determined to, and they're going to find a place and a way to do theatre."

Meanwhile, David Greenspan and Jack Cummings are planning a third solo revival of a theatre piece from the 1920's, Gertrude Stein's unconventional Four Saints In Three Acts.

"A romantic comedy, a modernist drama, and now a radical theatre text."

If there's a revival of Waiting For Godot at the St. James, then this is the greatest theatre marquee ever...

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: David Greenspan Goes Solo in The Patsy and Take Me Out Prompts a Mets Memory

In the second act of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out...

...a play that, when I first saw it twenty years ago at The Public Theater, I had really hoped would have been dated by now, nouveau-baseball fan Mason Marzac, played in Second Stage's Broadway revival with delightful inquisitiveness by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, compares a dramatic ninth inning comeback from way behind by the play's New York Empires (a/k/a thinly-veiled Yankees) to a June of 2000 game at Shea Stadium, where the Mets, down by 7 against their division rival Atlanta Braves, rallied for 10 runs with 2 out in the 8th inning to win.

I was at that game, and there was one major difference. In describing the scene at the Empires' ballpark, Greenberg has his character mention that by the time the late-game dramatics began, much of the hometown crowd had already left the stadium, not interested in witnessing the end of a blowout loss. But the Mets/Braves game was held on one of Shea Stadium's Fireworks Nights, which are always sellouts because the world famous Grucci family would put on a spectacular display just outside the ballpark.

So when Mike Piazza hit a grand slam to put the Mets ahead, there was still 50,000+ there to respond. It was the loudest an most sustained frenzy of excitement and noise I ever witnessed.

...until I was there for the reaction to Patti LuPone's last Rose's Turn.

Curtain Line...

"I'm offended... isn't that enough?" -- a line from Take Me Out that stands out more today than it did in 2002.



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