David Greenspan, who’s worked with Merritt in the past, says, “Theater is an experience that demands listening. If you hear a play written by Shakespeare, you’ll notice he’s given the audience something to listen to.” With similar idealism, it seems natural these two came together on this project. Greenspan adds, “We were determined to do something complex without a large budget. We wanted a direct experience for the audience, but kind of pared down.”
And pared down it is -- but lacking nothing. Though it’s a spare and economical set full of old doors and pianos and various decrepit boxes, it looks like some kind of magical junkyard from a childhood dream. It’s navigated by the cast in such a way that leads the audience into believing exactly what they believe; that a piano can be a hilltop or a two story flat.
The cast of seven plays a cast of 20 or more, changing their bare bones costumes as often as their accents, often within the same scene. There’s even some minor puppetry here and there. The role of Coraline is portrayed not by a young girl, but the much older Jayne Houdyshell. Houdyshell does a wonderful job of evoking the naivety of the young titular character. January LaVoy and Francis Jue, the duo that plays the kindly neighbors Miss Spink and Miss Forceable, among others, have a chemistry that’s insanely infectious, and arguably have the best songs in the whole production. Their quick musical number as the vacationing mother and father is a serious comedic highlight.
As Coraline’s counterpoint, Greenspan as the Other Mother, equally commands the stage. Her giant black eyes and black mop hair are fairly ominous, and her apron looks like something a cartoon surgeon might wear. With her brash tone and presumptuous manner, Greenspan plays her to such perfection that at times it’s nearly terrifying.
On playing the Other Mother, Greenspan says, “She’s like a chaotic child, very loquacious. She’s humorous and horrific, and I liked that. It’s a lot of fun to play someone like this, with an unending appetite, and malevolence.” He laughs and then says, “After I became a part of this adaptation, I kind of wormed my way into the cast [when they couldn’t find a proper fit for the Other Mother role].” He was born to play her, it seems.
Coraline opens June 1st -June 20th, 2009 at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher St., New York, NY. For more info, head here.
And to read our interview with Stephin Merritt, head over to Out.com.
-- ROBBIE IMES
Previously > Oh, Sherie!