John Epperson Leaves Lypsinka Behind For Play

Michael Tucker (left) and John Epperson 

Michael Tucker (left) and John Epperson 

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. 

"It's not a backstage musical," says Epperson dryly of the darkly haunting reunion that makes Follies look like a tea party. "Ted is a fairly quiet, though opinionated, person who doesn't have a whole lot to say until he blows his top and suddenly this other side of him is seen. And when he does, I told Scott [Elliott, the show's director] that it feels like a Bette Davis moment, like in The Star, where she's fairly low-key until she gets into a scene with her sister and her brother-in-law and she suddenly turns on them."