John Epperson in a World Without Art

John Epperson (R) and Larry Pine

John Epperson (R) and Larry Pine

In a new Wallace Shawn play, the actor leaves Lypsinka behind

In the American premiere of Wallace Shawn's Evening at the Talk House, John Epperson plays Ted, a composer who performs some incidental music on the piano, banters with the fellow guests gathered for a reunion, and reveals a dark, startling secret.

For some theatre fans, it will be equally startling to see Epperson in this sort of role. After all, he is best known as Lypsinka, a wildly stylized, lip-syncing chanteuse that he has performed (in drag) for 35 years.

Epperson was surprised himself when Shawn invited him to be in the ensemble piece that also features Matthew Broderick, Michael Tucker, Jill Eikenberry, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, and Larry Pine. (The New Group production plays at The Pershing Square Signature Center through March 12.)

"He said that his plays are an acquired taste, and he thought I might not appreciate it," the actor recalls. But Shawn also told him that though he had written the script several years ago – it premiered at London's National Theatre in 2015 – he felt it was timelier than ever.

Set in an old theatre hang-out, the one-act show brings together the participants in a fictitious, failed drama, Midnight in a Clearing With Moon and Stars, for a 10th-anniversary party. But in this sociopolitical parable, the world has changed in the past decade: theatre has all but died, entertainment is entirely escapist, and enemies are everywhere. Think Kafka at the Players Club.

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William KuxTDF Stages