By Myra Chanin


I first met two of the principals in Horseplay when I produced The Joey Reynolds Show on WOR-AM — an all night radio talk show where if you wanted to be on the air you had to be in the studio in the flesh in the wee small hours. Need I say we specialized in has-beens and wannabees, however, our guests were ambitious, desperate and reckless and their conversation was more exciting verbally than the blathering boldfaced names I heard on boldfaced shows. Two whom I remember fondly, Trav S. D. and Molly Pope, presently have worked their way up to boldfaced and are very involved as playwright and star in Horseplay: or, The Fickle Mistress, a Protean Picaresque, at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater on the Lower East Side.

What’s a Protean Picaresque? A phrase created by an English Major, which this English Major was forced to Google. It ‘s a versatile, episodic adventure story with a rough, dishonest but appealing hero or heroine as in Adah Isaacs Menken of the mid-19th Century who was declared the worst actress in America. Adah was a mistress of re-invention who claimed to be Jewish, Negro, an actress, a poet and a painter or anything else convenient, who dressed like a man and shared her bed indiscriminately with artists, boxers, and intellectuals. She was also a connubial hoarder, who married several men without divesting any of their predecessors. Adah was her own reality show and as expert at getting publicity as any Kardashian or Jenner regardless of whatever sex they claim to be. Like other greats, Jesus, Mozart and Eva Peron, Adah met her maker at the age of 33. Where she finally spent eternity may depend on whether St. Peter approved of her hem-hem poetry.

Molly Pope, the star of this outrageous extravaganza, trained at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and also with Charles Busch and it shows. She’s played Shakespearean heroines like Portia, Will’s baddies like Regan while belting her way through every significant cabaret venue in the US and Australia. She’s been declared the best singer in Cabaret and has the chops and plaques to prove it. At 24, she sounded liked Ethel Merman at 65. In addition to her big voice, she has subtle phrasing, can milk a melody, has a great body and is a convincing actress. Best of all, she’s lucky. The weekend Horseplay opened, The New York Times published a Q & A with and about her, which has obviously made folks who’ve never stepped foot on East 4th Street going out of their way downtown to see her perform.

Horseplay’s author, Trav S. D. is also a picaresque guy. You name it, he does it. He’s an actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker who’s been in the vanguard of New York’s vaudeville and burlesque scenes since 1995. The play is a musical but the music that Molly sang was confusing. I recognized one song, but couldn’t place any of the others.

I am not often at a loss for words but Horseplay left me more or less speechless. An inventive and quirky production, its flying silk curtains, moveable sets, onstage costume changes were equally tacky and campy. I prefer more elegant, stylish camp. My misgivings about the production included nary a qualm about the versatile and impressive acting company who meticulously switched from role to role.

Molly Pope was the most terrific without a doubt. I can’t wait till she’s 65 and plays Mama Rose! Despite the dazzling opening, 30 minutes later I found myself checking my watch again and again. I didn’t love Horseplay but I can’t forget it. It impressed more than I thought it had. I may have found it redundant but I may have been in the minority. A considerable portion of the audience seemed to enjoy the whole thing.

HORSEPLAY runs February 12 – March 1,  66 East 4th St,646-430-5374,or visit

Photos: James Eden