Downtown Mainstay David Greenspan Talks About The Patsy, the Pandemic, and Performing Solo
A mainstay of New York's "downtown theater," six-time Obie winner David Greenspan is beloved for his unusual solo shows in which he plays all the roles, such as his acclaimed adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, along with his stellar performances in shows as diverse as The Boys in the Band and Once Upon a Mattress.
Beginning March 30 at the Abrons Art Center, Greenspan is reviving one of his most popular works, his 2011 solo adaptation of Barry Conners's 1925 drawing room comedy, The Patsy, in which he takes on eight distinct roles.
TheaterMania recently spoke to him about the play, why he's reviving it now, how he spent the last two years, and his plans for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you keep busy these past two years?
Yes! Among other things, I wrote a bunch of radio plays, including The Memory Motel for Two Rivers Theatre. I did an outdoor cabaret on Annie Hamburger's stoop in Brooklyn. I did this play Superstitions at the New Ohio in October. And, of course, I did umpteen readings for Zoom, and frankly, I am glad that's over. I was lucky to be so busy.
Do you remember what it was like to get back to live theater?
The first show I did was in fall 2020. It was on the street and people stood in circles, socially distanced, and it felt like it was a block party for theater people. But honestly, the people there were more worried about the presidential election than being in an audience. Then, last year, I did one indoor performance of this solo show One Night Stand inside at the Astoria Performing Arts Center. I think I could have read the phone book and everyone would still have been thrilled to be there. At that point, they so clearly just wanted to be around each other in person.
And now you're doing The Patsy again. Did the play, and all eight characters, stick in your memory for a decade?
Well, what happened is Jack Cummings [the head of Transport Group] called me a few months ago. He was preparing a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance with NAATCO, but this was during Omicron, and he was afraid to do something with so many people. So, he asked me to revive The Patsy, because I am obviously an easier cast to keep healthy. And no, I didn't really remember that much. Some of the show came back from muscle memory, but it took some work to get all the lines back. We had a professional video of the production which I watched once, mostly to see how I did things physically.
Did you rehearse the play traditionally?
Mostly, I rehearsed by myself in my apartment, which is fine, because I am so used to moving the living room furniture around. It's actually how I rehearse a lot of my solo work. In fact, when I did the revival of The Royal Family on Broadway, I even used the living room for my own blocking rehearsals, because I had to do all this serving of tea, and I wanted to get it right.
What is it about The Patsy that made you want to take it on originally?
One of the things I've always appreciated about the play is that it's a Cinderella story, and most of us can relate to feeling less beautiful or less loved than other people. And the play also shows that there are always people out there who can give us tenderness and love.
How important do you think it is to make people laugh right now?
I think it's always a good thing to give people some form of pleasure in their entertainment — whether comic or tragic. And yes, it's been a long haul the last few years, so people deserve a fun time. But the most important thing I want is to get people out of their houses and join with other people to have an emotional and intellectual experience. There's been so much isolation these last two years, and I think that's been a strain on everybody.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am working on the third and final stage of my solo trilogy, an adaptation of Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts, which I will do in the fall. I am just doing the text, no music. I have another new play that I've written, and I am hoping to find the place to do it. But if we've learned one thing from the last two years, it's that you never know what will happen from one day to the next.