Some of the bravest and most peculiar theatre artists in the world these days belong to genre of the one person show. These people are out there all on their own, traveling light, propelled by their own wit, will and invention. Every now and then one of them hits it big--- Hal Holbrook was Mark Twain, and filling huge auditoriums all over the country. And Rick Miller, coming to THEATREWORKS this week with his hilarious hybrid, MacHomer, has a show you really don't want to miss. It starts strong, stays alive, and the finale is a staggering display of virtuosity--- as a fellow theatregoer said to me after the show last night:" Now that's talent!"
Miller and Holbrook are the exceptions. Most solo theater performers don't hit it so big. Partly because they are too peculiar--I mean you have to be an odd bird to want to make a living going around from town to town setting up your own one man carnival,turning on the lights, running your show, and then taking it all down again and moving on. You are a one person travelling circus. And most of the time your act will lack the mass appeal and instant recognition of Mark Twain or Bart Simpson. The odds are against you--how long can a theatre audience endure a performance by just one actor, no matter how great? Even Thespis, the Greek Tragedian credited with introducing the first actor, had a back-up chorus going for him. Ninety minutes is a stretch, just about as far as a single actor, no matter how charistmatic or protean, can go. Your sets have to be minimal too. So a one person show can wear an audience out very quickly, and usually does.
And yet, a few of the very best nights I have spent in the theater have been at one person shows, three of them in our theater: Wanda McCaddon in Happy Days, Karen Slack in The Syringa Tree, and Bob Pinney's Christmas Carol were all indelible performances. At an even higher level of risk--actors who are also the authors and creators of their own material--we've seen Mike Daisey, and the greatest of them all, Spalding Gray in a shaky appearance here recovering from a serious automobile accident. Jim Jackson, across town at MAT, has done two wonderful one person shows based on his own life. There have been more. Many years ago I saw John O'Keefe in a little theatre in Los Angeles performing in his autobiographical play, Shimmer, and it was a transcendent experience. A short time later I saw Fred Curchack's one man Tempest, and was stunned by its invention. I thought I need these guys. I invited John to play Odysseus and Fred to created puppet shadows in the Smokebrush adaptation of Homer's Odyssey twenty years ago. Bad idea. Solo performers are solo artists for a reason--they are meant to play more with themselves than with others. That production was the most harrowing in my long memory---though not entirely without reward (a woman walked into our theater a year later and told me she was still dreaming about it).
Last weekend Betty and I went up to Denver to see a solo show created by Thaddeus Phillips.
Thaddeus grew up in Colorado Springs, and for a summer was in a children's theater company with my son Orion. He went to Colorado College,and studied with Encho Avramov, my mad man friend from Bulgaria (who will be having his own show at Smokebrush next week). Thaddeus has become a distinguished solo theatre artist (with the excellent collaboration of his wife, Tatiana), living the life of an avant-garde theatre guy, creating shows, playing festivals, touring Europe, South America--and now--for a moment, Colorado. His new show is called Microworld, pt. 1. It is an hour and fifteen minutes of extraordinary invention and charm. It plays one more weekend at the Buntport theater and is absolutely worth the trip. We stopped to eat lunch at the the Peruvian buffet at Los Cabos II downtown--a restaurant full of strange dishes (was I eating dog?) and a wonderful ethnic texture you don't find in our town (blacks, latinos and my two white grandchildren). The buffet prepped us for thinking globally,as Thaddeus wants us to do in his new show, which is set in a pod cubicle in the Toyko Nagakin tower, designated for destruction--the pod turns out to be magician's box with many rabbits and one adorable rubber duck. Here's John Moore's Denver Post review (a rave).
It's theatre for the 21st century for sure. See it if you can. My grandkids can't wait for part two, which arrives in the spring.