BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
“This is kind of a weird play,” a character named Bernard advises the audience during the first moments of “Go Back to Where You Are,” and that proves to be certainly – and delightfully — true about writer-actor David Greenspan’s latest work, which opened Tuesday at Playwrights Horizons.
Crafted in an unusually fluid manner, the fanciful “Go Back to Where You Are” runs a mere 70 minutes but spans thousands of years and ceaselessly skips about in chronology as it studies an ancient thespian who unexpectedly awakens to love in modern times.
Once a minor player in classical Greece, Passalus (Greenspan) has since become a shape-shifting minion for God and by now is weary of doing His missions on Earth. Dispatched to the present-day Hamptons to nudge a young woman away from her detrimental family, Passalus assumes the guise of an elderly British gentlewoman.
The family situation lightly suggests Chekhov, “The Seagull” in particular, as it centers around a fatuous middle-aged actress, Claire (Lisa Banes), on vacation with loved ones and admirers. Claire’s nice brother Bernard (Brian Hutchison) is a writer whom Passalus first encounters while in his matronly incarnation. The men meet again on the next day when the shape-shifter has momentarily shed his feminine disguise – and they click.
The playwright, however, weaves both meetings into a simultaneous encounter, which is possible because the actor depicting Passalus is not shown as actually wearing old lady drag when in his fictive form (one assumes the others see him as such). Later in the story, Passalus attends a barbecue with Barnard’s family both as himself and as the British visitor, which leads to a mildly farcical situation.
For all of its incidental humor, “Go Back to Where You Are” mainly concerns a soul’s last chance to experience love. In the process, Greenspan’s mercurial play blithely transcends chronology and realism as the characters speak directly to the audience, give voice to their unspoken thoughts and, in the case of the Greek chorus actor, reflects upon the ancient past in the light of the present day.
Director Leigh Silverman, who has done so beautifully by Lisa Kron’s off-beat plays such as “Well,” easily makes stage sense of Greenspan’s whimsical concept. Thanks in no small part to Greenspan’s sinuous ways as a distinctive actor, the instantaneous transitions between scenes are nearly seamless. Rachel Hauck’s austere setting for a windswept terrace, Theresa Squire’s unobtrusive summer clothes and Matt Frey’s subtle lighting design enhance the play’s fluent charms.
Like Greenspan, the members of the ensemble also go along smoothly with the story’s flow. The low-keyed and open-faced Hutchison tenderly portrays Bernard as the nicest guy in the world. Banes’ condescending Claire gradually turns more poisonous. Mariann Mayberry is funny and mildly pathetic as a woman who usually says the wrong thing. The other characters played by Stephen Bogardus, Michael Izquierdo and Tim Hopper have relatively little to do, but the actors make them into excellent company.
“Go Back to Where You Are” continues through May 1 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.