By Marilyn Lester . . .
In 1925, playwright Barry Connor wrote a fractious drawing-room comedy in The Patsy, whose Broadway success led to a 1928 film (a huge hit and now a classic) starring Marion Davies and Marie Dressler. Many years later, Obie-winning actor David Greenspan sought to revive the piece—as a one-man show. And so, in 2011, the newly reimagined The Patsy was presented by The Transport Group. This revival of the revival has the same cast, David Greenspan, who continues to play all eight roles with a zaniness off the scales. His The Patsy is a one-man farce filled with head-spinning energy and a sack full of comic turns. With fine direction by Transport Group Artistic Director, Jack Cummings III, Greenspan literally bounces around the box of a set for a virtuosic, whirlwind 80 minutes.
As to that set, it literally is a three-sided box set into the stage, meaning Greenspan approaches from the auditorium and leaps onto it (reverse that for his exit at play’s end). The setting is a comfortable middle-class living room of the 1920s, in which the actor begins by explaining exactly where doors, staircases and other elements of the stylish home are figuratively located. What we see from the audience are three walls without doors or windows—so, with the many entrances and exits of the play, that bouncing becomes hilarious, as each of the characters come, go, enter, leave and otherwise move in and about the premises.
The patsy of the title is Patricia (notice the double-entendre), the sweet and patient Harrington sister, lorded over by her snobbish, mean-spirited sister Grace. Grace is currently engaged to Billy Caldwell, the town’s most eligible and well-heeled bachelor, having thrown over the “less desirable” good-natured Tony Anderson, with whom Patricia is in love. But the fly in the dramatic ointment is that Patricia believes Tony is still in love with Grace and is willing to sacrifice her pursuit of him because of it. Through misunderstandings, miscommunication and plenty of drama, eventually Patricia and Tony realize they do love each other. The portrayal of their first kiss is one of Greenspan’s most triumphant comic moments.
Swirling about the two sisters and their suitors, this being an old-school screwball comedy, is the family Harrington, a contentious and gossipy lot, wrapped up in scandal and intrigue, with a healthy dose of familial ambition for wealth and status involved. Mrs. Harrington is a flaky sort, a social climber whose chief complaint is that the family does not have an automobile. In her eyes, this deficiency translates into a shameful social status quite a few notches below the ladder rung of her aspirations. Mr. Harrington, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense, but kindly, sort in grocery sales, who has no problem laying down the law about automobiles, a purchase he tells his wife will be as likely as a battleship sinking off the coast of Nebraska. Throw in a haughty Harrington aunt, and a minor walk-on part of a taxi driver, and the cast is complete.
These eight characters not only call for the amazing physicality that Greenspan invests in The Patsy, but for vocal gymnastics as well. Greenspan is terrific at differentiating each, although sometimes the pace is so fast and furious that it’s easy to become momentarily lost. Eventually, Greenspan’s piloting of a steady ship allows catching up. When he gets into a hysterical, shrill, crescendo, for instance, there’s no doubt Mrs. Harrington is speaking. Ultimately, what makes The Patsy endearing and fun is that Greenspan is clearly having a heck of a good time himself.
The Patsy has set and costume design by Dane Laffrey, lighting design by Mark Barton, sound design by Michael Rasbury and production sound design by Julian Evans.
The Patsy. Through May 1 at the Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street, at PItt). 80 minutes, no intermission. www.transportgroup.org