Off Broadway Reviews
Horseplay, written by Indie playwright Trav S. D., takes advantage of the fact that Menkenwho became an international star in the melodrama Mazeppa, playing the role of a man and famously riding on horseback wearing a nude bodysuitgave out so many different versions of her life story that no one seems to know the truth.
The design of the play uses the time-honored frame of dictated memoirs, in this case the highly flexible and suspect version of Menken's life and loves as told to her agent and manager. The production shows her to be a nineteenth century "Zelig," who presented various portraits of herself depending on the situation and whom she wished to impress. To her Jewish husband, she was Jewish; to her Irish lover, she was Catholic; to the writer, the senior Alexander Dumas, she was of African ancestry; to the bohemian actress/writer Ada Clare, she was a lesbian. As the playwright posits, "there are as many truths to tell as there are stars in the sky to wish upon."
Under Elyse Singer's zippy direction, the versatile troupe of actors play multiple roles, often making head-spinning rapid character and gender switches as they relate the varied takes on Menken's biography in a wildly exaggerated style that reflects her wildly exaggerated story telling. These include Tiffany Abercrombie, Tim Cusack (Theatre Askew's artistic director), Jan Leslie Harding, Chuck Montgomery, Everett Quinton, and Mark St. Cyrall of them excellent. The play, running two-and-a-half hours with intermission, is underscored nicely with original music by William TN Hall, who has provided Ms. Pope with a couple of lively numbers to perform, including one in which she channels Lady Gaga.
But none of this would work without the central and terrific portrayal of Adah Isaacs Menken by Molly Pope, in whose acting you'll find traces of Barbra Streisand, Gilda Radner, Mae West, Carol Burnett, and Bette Midlera perfect embodiment of the charisma and wit of a woman determined to make her way in what was most certainly a man's world.
Horseplay: or, The Fickle Mistress, A Protean Picaresque