It's not really a play, and "staged documentary" sounds way too dry for this fascinating look at a very famous mid-20th-century figure largely unremembered today. If anyone can promote Jorgensen, America's first publicized transsexual, from footnote status back to her rightful place in the sociological pantheon, it is Bradford Louryk, whose re-creation of Jorgensen is completely believable. Louryk, who also conceived the presentation, impeccably lip-synchs to Jorgensen's one full-length (51-minute) television interview, but he goes well beyond that by looking the part in Mary Ping's costume and accompanying Jorgensen's faux theatrical accent with extravagant hand gestures, mostly while sitting down in a TV studio!
Even most of us who might vaguely remember Jorgensen's celebrity in 1953, when she returned home from Denmark a woman, having left her native Bronx as George, a slim, shy photographer and ex-soldier, will learn anew what a warm, insightful human being she became in the process. In this 1958 interview, given after she had completed her memoirs, Jorgensen was ahead of her time in discussing complex sexuality and its implications for society.
Rob Grace portrays the interviewer (on a round black-and-white TV screen) with the right touch of facial humor as he straddles the line between prurience and disapproval. The direction by Josh Hecht is sensitive, and the design is first-rate, especially Robert Kaplowitz's sound, which is nearly seamless. The only thing missing, besides more of Jorgensen, is some context. This, after all, was the era of the Cold War, Eisenhower, McCarthyism, A-bomb testing, and the birth of rock 'n' roll. No one could expect Jorgensen to allude to any of this, but since we're in a television studio, some pre-interview footage (or at least some blown-up stills on the wall) might serve to underline that this was the unlikeliest decade for social enlightenment.
Presented by the Splinter Group, Highbrow Entertainment, Sterling Bridge Productions, and Sandra Garner orginally at Dodger Stages, 340 W. 50th St., NYC. Dec. 29-Jan. 28. Thu.- Sat., 8 p.m. (212) 239-6200 or (800)432-7250. Will re-open at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. NYC. Feb. 16-April 1.