In Mark R. Giesser's comedy, Code Of The West, set in 1867, eccentric Joshua A. Norton declares himself Emperor of the United States.
For all the perques of being supreme ruler, he still must deal with "a bank panic, an unruly press, and the unexpected arrival of the woman of his dreams." The play runs through Nov. 3 at the Judith Anderson Theatre of Off-Broadway's Theatre Row (West 42nd Street).
Strange as the play's plot may sound, it's actually based on truth. Playwright Giesser told Playbill On-Line that Norton was, perhaps, America's most successful eccentric. "He was a successful merchant," Giesser said, "but he lost his fortune. Then he walked into the San Francisco Chronicle office and declared himself Emperor. Well, they thought it was really cute and funny, and they ran with it. San Francisco basically adopted and indulged him for 21 years."
"He was a canny guy," continued Giesser. "Everybody laughed when he suggested building a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Years later they built the Bay Bridge -- a few feet from where he suggested the bridge should be."
The show, a very fictionalized version of the true story, had a workshop staging March 1996 at Off-Broadway's Samuel Beckett Theatre (also on Theatre Row). This production of Code, directed by the author, will star Avrom Berel, D.A.P. Brown, Ivanna Cullinan, Steve Ditmyer and Linda Ewing. John Scheffler has designed the set, Melanie Ann Schmidt the costumes, Michael S. Appel the lighting. For tickets and information on Code Of The West, call (212) 279 4200.
-- By David Lefkowitz