This is the premise of “Too Many Lenas,” a play based on — you guessed it — the creator of HBO’s “Girls” premiering at Dixon Place later this month.
In early January, director David Bernstein sent an email to “a super group of alpha-friends,” a collective now known as Carroll Simmons (after Lena Dunham‘s parents, Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons): “Guys, I literally JUST had this idea for a show called ‘Four Lenas’ where you all play four Lena Dunhams all living at a stately manor together. You could plan your careers like Lena Dunham, order food like Lena Dunham, watch porn like Lena Dunham, clean the house like Lena Dunham. Think Karen Finley playing Liza. Think Tina Fey playing Sarah. Think instant theater history.”
And into the Lena-verse they banged.
Lest you fear the show is about a troupe of cupcake-eating, inner-ear-puncturing Lena Dunhams that take over entertainment, New York, and well, the world: that’s not even close. Each of the six cast members (the idea proved so popular, Bernstein added two more actresses) chose a side of the “Girls” creator that she identified with most: there’s Apologetic Lena, Perfect Lena, Self-Depicted Lena, and, of course, Naked Lena.
One character, Urban Lena, was created with criticism of the show’s lack of diversity in mind. Originally written and played by an African-American cast member who had to step out of the show due to scheduling conflicts, Urban Lena is now played by Stephanie Hsu, an Asian-American. “Urban Lena is a little bit harder, and less coddled,” explains cast member and creative producer Jaime Wright. “She’s a bit of the voice of reason when the other girls are swept up in their neuroses.”
Wright, who graduated from NYU in 2011, is a young filmmaker who, according to her website, “creates celebrations focused on the millennial generation,” and her work often overlaps with Dunham’s. So much so that Wright began having nightmares about their competition. “I started having these dreams in which I’d wake up in the morning and rush downstairs to tell my parents about this brilliant movie idea that I’d thought up. They’d say, ‘That’s great, but your sister already came up with that.’ And then Lena Dunham would pop out.”
“Too Many Lenas” is roughly divided into three parts: the first shows the day-to-day lives of the Lenas. The second contains a “big project” that they work on together. The main five Lenas each have a solo section, after which the sixth Lena — idealized, extreme, exaggerated — tries to whip them into shape.
Don’t expect something along the lines of “Girls” Season 38 or Dunham’s “Zero Dark Thirty” audition. “It certainly wasn’t written as a parody,” said Bernstein, also an NYU alum. “We used some shorthand and her vocabulary to play up her stereotype, but the point wasn’t to make fun of her or of the ‘hipster’ culture.”
Instead, Bernstein used Dunham as a way to discuss what he and his friends were going through as struggling 20-something New Yorkers. “A big thing in the show is the idea that ‘everybody has stuff, and it’s not special, but I still need you to care,’” Wright said.
While the cast has varied and distant connections to Dunham, they don’t expect her in the audience. “The hard part would be convincing her that we’re not bashing her,” said Bernstein. “It’s hard to see a performance where your likeness is used compulsively.” (The black-and-white press photo evokes a seance, with five of the Lenas in a semi-circle, all wearing white t-shirts printed with Dunham’s face.) “Her presence would totally change the atmosphere– it’d become a performance about Lena Dunham watching ‘Too Many Lenas,’ instead of the show itself.”
“It’d be great if she could tweet about it, though.”
“Too Many Lenas,” June 22 at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie St., nr. Delancey St.; 212-219-0736