She Stoops to Comedy
Also see Susan's review of That Championship Season
She Stoops to Comedy, the current production of Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is an effervescent gender-bending farce that references the history of theater while creating something new. Howard Shalwitz's direction crackles, and the six-member ensemble is exemplary.
Playwright David Greenspan has created a highly structured play that seems improvisational. At the outset, actor Michael Russotto moves around a few pieces of scenery and tosses out a few ideas for characters – his offhand "OK, fine," becomes a character named Kay Fein – and the settings for the scenes sometimes bounce around in time.
Russotto, without drag or any artifice but his malleable face and posture, then inhabits the role of Alexandra Page, an actress of a "certain age" who worries that her younger lover, Alison Rose (Gia Mora), is not happy in their relationship. Alison is leaving her background in musicals to play Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It in summer stock.
In Shakespeare's comedy, Rosalind disguises herself as a boy, which allows her a chance to spend time with Orlando, the man she loves, without his knowing who she is. (Of course, in Elizabethan times, young men played the female roles.) Alex – played by a man, remember – decides to disguise herself as a man and to audition to play Orlando opposite her lover's Rosalind.
That's only the beginning of the delights and confusions of She Stoops to Comedy. Between an avant-garde director (Daniel Frith) with some unusual ideas about staging Shakespeare; his lover and assistant, Eve Addaman (Jenna Sokolowski); brassy Jayne Summerhouse (Kate Eastwood Norris, who also plays the flexible Kay Fein), who may or may not be after Alison; and unhappy actor Simon Lanquish (Daniel Escobar), the complications keep building for the entire 90-minute run time.
Russotto gives a rich, multi-layered comic performance, both as the grande dame Alex and as Harry, the swaggering male character she creates. Mora's performance is sweet and heartfelt as she finds herself drawn to a "man" for the first time.
Because the playwright is also a performer, he has given elaborate and hilarious set pieces to two of the supporting performers. Escobar, a frustrated gay man who believes that "Harry" is the man of his dreams, gets to open the floodgates and release his character's anger and resentments in one hilarious onslaught. Norris gets a chance to do a raucous two-person scene by herself as both the dominating Jayne and the more easygoing Kay.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company