What do ancient Greece, purgatory, a beach house on Long Island, and a tight-knit group of friends have to do with each other? David Greenspan’s remarkable new play at Playwrights Horizons, Go Back to Where You Are, drops us right in the middle of this seemingly unconnected world and effectively guides and leads us to its promise land, a common ground where we can all shed the armor and masks we put on every day to face the world.
Greenspan is starring in and has written this tremendously enjoyable, genre-breaking, metatheatrical, Chekhov-esque new play that follows a lively group of theatre friends as they gather for a birthday party. You see, it is difficult to even categorize this play, as one of the characters even notes during the show that the playwright is “still looking for a form to tell this story.”
Many characters speak in asides or narrate directly to the audience, not only revealing what the characters are thinking but also commenting on the form and structure of the play that is unfolding. Greenspan’s clever use of all of these theatrical devices is rewarding because in just over 70 minutes he is able to create, with the help of top-notch cast, a play that is insightful, funny, and moving.
We begin, simultaneously, on an idyllic summer day at a glorious beach house on Long Island and in a purgatory-like world where God has just banished Passalus (Greenspan), a forgotten chorus boy from Ancient Greece, back to earth on a mission of discovery and to help Carolyn.
The beach house is owned by Claire (the wonderfully divine Lisa Banes), a well meaning but sharp-toothed actress who has an uncanny gift of to say exactly what is on her mind while remaining only slightly offensive. Carolyn (a character in the play who we never meet but is referred to often) is Claire’s daughter and the reason this group of friends has gathered, including Claire’s brother Bernard, an even-tempered, introspective struggling playwright himself. Just as we learn of Passalus’s mission Bernard addresses the audience to let us know that “this is kind of a weird play.”
Passalus’s mission is clear. Naturally, God has given him one rule that he must follow. He cannot meddle or interfere with anyone else’s destiny. Therefore, in order to mingle with this group of friends Passalus is able to shape shift and assume the identity of the astonishingly regal Mrs. Simmons.
Greenspan’s thin and wiry body, his amazing gift for comic timing, and his definitively clear motivations, intentions and choices as an actor are a joy to watch as he instantly changes characters, right in front of our eyes, from Passulus to Mrs. Simmons and back. Throw into the mix Passalus’s ability to read the minds of the other party guests and some truly inspired, hilarious, theatrical playwriting unfolds (a comedy of errors if you will)!
As Passalus/Mrs. Simmons schmoozes his (or her) way through the party it becomes increasingly more difficult for him to not help or guide this overly dramatic broken group of friends. As luck (or fate or God) would have it Passalus finds himself falling for the younger eternally conflicted Bernard.
Brian Hutchinson’s performance as Bernard is understated, tender, and incredibly honest. He has fleshed out this character with prominent pauses and purposefully odd speech patterns that make Bernard an interesting, complex, fragile and loveable person. Greenspan’s grounded yet over-the-top theatrics and shape-shifting gives way to an ostensibly perfect odd couple love story that is so sweet it gave me a toothache. A good toothache though!
This is where the true heart of this show lies. Greenspan’s amazing portrayal of characters and an extraordinarily sincere love story between Passalus and Bernard elevate the material to new levels. Leigh Silverman’s direction is simple and effective, much like the play itself. Under Leigh’s skillful directorial eye, and with the help of Rachel Hauck’s unit wood deck set and Matt Frey’s natural, earthy shore-town lighting, the many pieces of this disjointed puzzle come together to reveal something special.
In just over 70 minutes of Greenspan’s Inception-like story, where we are continually reminded that “there’s no chronology to this play”, he has written compassionate, likeable characters mixed with a sensitive, sweet, and touching story about finding love at any stage in life. There are times when these characters are more of an abstract piece of art rather than a finely detailed masterpiece, but nothing is missed due to a finely tuned cast that fills in all of the needed details and nuances.
Mr. Greenspan’s play is witty, tender, and revealing. It challenges us to feel and to look deep within ourselves. What if you were given a second chance like Passalus? Or are you living your first chance to the fullest? Go Back to Where You Are, is touching and ultimately leaves, as one character aptly states, “a little spot on the heart.”