nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
January 7, 2010
"In the theater, what is happening is actually happening—it is happening as it happens—it is an act....If you were to ask me is what I do on the stage a play, I could not be certain, I could not say. If you were to ask me is what I do on the stage theater, again, I could not be certain, I could not say. Of only one thing can I say and of it be certain, and that is that what I do on this stage is an act!" So says David Greenspan in the prologue that opens The Myopia. And this act, in the case of The Myopia: An Epic Burlesque of Tragic Proportion, is on the one hand the simplest action imaginable: a man sits in a chair and tells a story. And on the other hand, it is everything its subtitle promises and more: a five-act epic (though we only actually see the prologue, act 1, an entr'acte, and act 5; act 2, we are told, was written then discarded, while act 4 was conceived but never written, and act 3 led to the complete destruction of the play's internal playwright character and shall therefore not be spoken of), burlesque, tragic, full of both low comedy and elegantly poetic imagery, fairy tale and philosophical disquisition, all of it revealed, narrated, and intertwined by that one man, the inimitable Greenspan, from his chair.
The ensemble of The Myopia includes—and this is only a very partial listing—Warren G. Harding ("a character from history"); a nuclear family consisting of: a playwright named Barclay who takes the shape of an illuminated globe, Barclay's father Febus, who is trying to write a musical comedy about Warren G. Harding, and his mother Koreen, a Rapunzel gone wrong; a gaggle of Republican senators from the early 20th century; an Orator and a Raconteur—and the Raconteur's doppelganger in the form of Carol Channing. We see Harding as a young man of unfocused ambitions, and then again as the topic of discussion on the brink of his presidential run, and at the end of his life surrounded by ghosts or memories of the women from throughout his life. We see Febus locked in the bathroom trying to narrate his magnum opus into a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and we see Barclay grapple with trying to write about his family legacy. All of these, and many more, not to mention a running narration of complex, richly detailed stage directions, are nested and intertwined into a story that simultaneously is told, comments upon itself, and refracts back through an investigation into the very nature of theatre. One piece of narration toward the end of the play uses descriptions of physical details about the three different spaces of the three main narratives to link them metaphorically and visually—all wholly inside Greenspan's, and therefore the audience's, imagination.
Now, all of this could all too easily teeter on the edge of being a brilliant lecture about theatre, rather than a marvelously watchable piece of theatre, if not for Greenspan's performance. He's an actor of amazing specificity and alertness, bringing a precisely focused intelligence to not just every line spoken by every character, but every piece of narration—his readings of stage directions paint better stage pictures than many a physical set I've seen—and every gesture. It's a wordy play and yet not a word is wasted; every moment feels both completely controlled and yet newly rediscovered—and the joy Greenspan himself is finding in the act he is enacting is inspiring to watch.