David Greenspan: Other Mother's Day

In off-Broadway's Coraline playwright-performer David Greenspan pokes gender conventions in the black-button eye.

BY Brandon Voss

June 09 2009 12:00 AM ET

DAVID GREENSPAN X390 (ROB HANN) | ADVOCATE.COM

You've explored subtle elements of drag before in Some Men and in your own plays, such as She Stoops to Comedy and Dead Mother. How do you pull off drag without it feeling gimmicky or campy?
I worked as a waiter for a number of years, and the waiters would always joke, "It's time to get into drag," which basically meant it was time to get into your waiter costume. To me, any kind of costume is a kind of drag because it's a disguise. When you're wearing the costume of the opposite gender, of course there's another element to it, but it's still a costume.

She has the eerie black-button eyes described in the book, but did you have a say in creating Other Mother's look in terms of hair and costume?
In the book she's described as a "gruesome entity," so I wanted to find some kind of artificial and artistic way of suggesting a female entity without full drag. I didn't want makeup, and I didn't want to modify my body in any way, but it was really the job of our costume designer, Anita Yavich, and Leigh to realize that. I'm not really wearing anything that's strictly female except for the wig, and even men wear their hair long. It's always one of my major concerns that the disguise of a character is something made primarily with the voice and body.

Did any actresses or fictional female characters inspire your performance?
There are bits and pieces of English accents that I either recalled or got tapes of to remind myself, but I tried to integrate them so that it's my own. I was actually thinking of Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, because I wanted a sweet voice.

A popular animated film version of Coraline was released in February. How has that impacted your production?
One of the good things about it was that it got people interested in Coraline if they weren't already. But we're so different from the film that it's hard to compare us. The film is so beautifully realized in its animated format, but we stick closer to the original story than the film, and we have an actress in her 50s playing Coraline. I find that people are relieved that we haven't tried to reproduce the film.

Were you at all influenced by Teri Hatcher's vocal performance as Other Mother?
By the time Stephin and I saw the film, we'd already done three workshops, plus readings, so we were well into developing the piece. I'd well established my approach to the role before seeing the film, so it didn't influence us in any way.

Could your Other Mother kick Teri's Other Mother's ass?
[Laughs] No. I wouldn't want any part of that.

Tags: Theater

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