At a One-Act Play, A Genderqueer Journey Through The Twilight Zone

Mirrored walls face each other, a long black-covered table sits in the center, under a line of low hanging lights. Haze fills the room. The actor David Greenspan shows up and walks through the audience, with a quiet grace as if a gentle wind has just picked up and caused a thin cloud of dust to swirl in the air at the Brick Theater, over in East Williamsburg.

Earlier this month, Greenspan animated a one-person show called “On Set With Theda Bara,” where he plays a fictionalized take on Theda Bara, a notable actress from the silent era, when she was known by the nickname “the Vamp.” Shortly through, the identity of Greenspan’s character flips. Now, he’s a father searching for his missing 16-year-old, genderqueer daughter, named Iras. But that night, Greenspan isn’t just those two either; he also plays Iras, as it happens, and also a character called Ulysses, who is Bara’s organist and thwarted lover. 

The plotlines of the different characters that Greenspan plays intertwine, with fluid transitions in between each vignette.

They’ve all got some issues. Greenspan’s Bara thinks her life is a one big lie; the father is queer, who wishes he was “normal”; while Iras is trying to discover themself, and Ulysses is desperately obsessed with Theda. They are all characters filled with other people’s and personal expectations that they can neither escape, nor bring to light. They consume and are being consumed at the same time.

The plotlines of the different characters that Greenspan plays intertwine, with fluid transitions in between each vignette. Occasionally, it becomes hard to recognize which character is speaking and at what time, as the roles, the time, and the space move about constantly. While no single thread connects the characters, they feel so distinct, yet so similar, as if the multiple shadows of one are bouncing off the other. This is assisted by a mirror maze used in the production, designed by a stage designer named Frank J. Oliva.

The final scene presents a sudden contrast to the dreamlike and surreal tone of the rest of the play. As the gunshot sets off in the darkness, all the searching and doubting of oneself or another comes to an end in the performance of a single, wounded body. While the characters feel like separate individuals previously, they now seem to have converged into one, drifting and overlapping into each other.

The Brick Theater is located at 579 Metropolitan Avenue.


Images taken by Emilio Madrid.

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