SAN DIEGO — A San Diego native and part-time Del Mar resident is currently portraying the Harpo Marx character of The Professor in Cygnet Theatre’s production of “Animal Crackers.”
When offered the male role, Samantha Wynn Greenstone said there was “absolutely not” a moment of hesitation.
“I think it’s amazing that Cygnet is so progressive and is willing to take a chance on creating more job opportunities for women in that regard,” she said. “There’s no reason why a woman cannot play a man’s role. It’s about the talent, not the anatomy.”
“If anything I was even more excited that it was a male role and not a female role,” she added.
In fact, it was a greater test of her acting skills playing a voiceless character with no script of her own to memorize.
“It’s obviously a little bit of a challenge having no lines and having to communicate through my physical expressions and my horns,” she said. “I have to know everyone else’s lines for timing.
“And it’s a very powerful thing because I think people these days talk way too much,” she added. “We don’t listen to one another. By being silent and just listening we’re almost spreading more love and it heightens our other senses.”
Greenstone has been performing since she was about 8 years old. Ironically, her first lead was a male character.
During a summer theater camp she was cast as Mr. Bumble in “Oliver.” She also sang in her synagogue’s choir.
“I always enjoyed singing,” she said. “I always got the solos so I thought I must have a knack for this.”
But Greenstone didn’t initially pursue an acting career. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in sociology she looked for “higher-paying entry-level jobs.”
“I don’t think I really had much of a plan,” she said. “I was young and kind of going where the wind took me. But I still went to shows.”
One night while watching a performance, Greenstone said she realized nothing made her happier than being onstage.
“So why was I even attempting to do anything than what I love to do?” she asked. “It’s a waste of a life.”
That was seven years ago. Greenstone, now 30, said she didn’t want to train with a specific program.
Instead she found a vocal coach who best suited her voice and listened to recommendations from mentors and colleagues. She also looked for actors she deemed successful and sought to train with “their people.”
Eventually she joined the Second City Conservatory Program in Hollywood. Greenstone said she “had the blessing” of playing Grandma Addams in “The Addams Family” at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre last summer.
“That made me feel like my career has now been taken to the next level,” she said.
Earlier this year she appeared in Cygnet’s production of “On the 20th Century.” It was that performance that led director Sean Murray to offer her the role in “Animal Crackers.”
“I think there was a spark within me that reminded him of Harpo Marx,” she said. “I’m a very physically expressive person. I think that my expressions kind of match Harpo Marx’s expressions. He said my enthusiasm for life and my approach to life are in the essence of Harpo.”
Going forward, Greenstone said she would like to take on TV and movie roles.
“I think you want to use your talent for as many resources as possible in as many ways as possible,” she said. “I’ve kind of been trusting in the universe, doing the work and pursuing every medium that I can.
“I have certainty that I’m meant to perform and so my plans are to just keep doing it,” she added. “It’s the thing that makes me the happiest and I will definitely try to take this career all the way.”
“Animal Crackers” will be onstage at Cygnet through Aug. 13. Visit www.cygnettheatre.com for tickets and more information.
“I think people should come and see the show because there’s something for everyone,” Greenstone said. “It’s a unique style of show with some audience interaction. And the Marx Brothers are iconic.”