- Strange Interludeby Jack Cummings III
Transport Group Theatre Company and its artistic director Jack Cummings III's choice to produce off-off Broadway Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize–winning nine-act and sometimes six-hour play was an opportunity to muse upon this sometimes frustrating, sometimes enthralling 1928 experimental piece. The last significant New York City area production of Strange Interludewas Glenda Jackson's 1985 Tony-nominated Broadway production.
Strange Interlude'splot centers upon Nina Leeds and her unfulfilled passion for a man named Gordon whose death in World War I drives her to a period of promiscuity. After recovering from this youthful nervous breakdown, Nina spends the remainder of her life with men who do not measure up to her idealized memories of Gordon.
Director Cummings strategized with scenic designer Dane Laffrey to create three performance spaces within Brooklyn's Irondale Theatre Center, a reconstituted church interior. The three areas seamlessly transformed into Strange Interlude's six locations during the performance. When it was necessary to have a set change, the entire audience consisting of about thirty individuals would be instructed to stand and walk to one of the other two locations while the previous one was redressed. By using sparse set pieces, that is, a table, lamp, chair, along with changeable window dressing and essential props, the focus of the performance became less about setting and instead about the interactions of the characters and the sexual/social [End Page 183]dynamics of a given scene. The most striking setting was the location for the yacht race and the play's final scene, which takes place at the Evans' estate on Long Island. These latter two locations took place on connected plywood sections stretched together on what appeared to be an island-like precipice suspended over an open floor frame constructed high within the former church's interior. The audience was asked to sit in two rows separated from the performance space by a railing and to look over an open area in front of the performance space's platforms. The open area offered glimpses of a floor far below. The result of this view was to give the impression that the audience was sitting on a building rooftop and watching the final two acts of the play ascend to their apex on an adjacent rooftop precipice.
Five-time Obie Award–winning solo performer David Greenspan acted Nina Leeds and all the play's characters in a quasi-recital manner that honored the spirit of O'Neill's intentions, which, the playwright stated, were "to attempt to do in a play all that can be done in a novel." Greenspan's Playbillcredits list that he has specialized in similar solo performances of literary selections and full-length plays throughout his acting career. Greenspan had the entire play memorized and fully physicalized each character. And, since the play is constructed so that characters express their unspoken thoughts before or after dialogue exchanges, the intimacy of each performance space well suited this style. Greenspan gently revealed each character's expressed deepest doubts, hopes, fears, and shame as introspective soliloquies rather than having to forcefully project these unspoken feelings as is sometimes the case in larger spaces.
During his performance Greenspan swiftly transitioned through a range of male gender essences: overly logical emotionally reserved and virile lover (Edmund Darrel), patronizing elderly father (Professor Leeds), immature and not terribly bright or sexually appealing husband (Sam Evans), and platonic father/confessor/friend (Charlie Marsden). The three female characters consisting of Charlie's mother (Mrs. Amos Evans), Older Gordon's fiancée (Madeline Arnold), and the central character (Nine Leeds) were suggested in a range of female gender essences, that is, matriarchal, naïvely romantic, fluttering and delicate and so on. The most emotionally compelling act in the production occurred as Greenspan fluidly moved back and forth between the character of Nina and Charlie's mother in act 3 when she implores Nina to abort Charlie's child because of his family's...