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One-Man Show Playwrights; One-Man Shows

Playwrights who’ve contributed scripts for Midnight’s one-man shows have just hit New York with new work.

Will Eno , who wrote ThomPain (based on nothing) that Midnight presented in 2006, was represented off-Broadway at the Flea Theater with a late November opening of OH, THE HUMANITY AND OTHER EXCLAMATIONS. The show is a series of five short plays, most featuring Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchison, with an appearance by Drew Hildebrand.

The New York Times said, “Eno’s unmistakable voice – aggressively stylized, unendingly compassionate, flecked with weird, bleak humor – rings out with arresting originality in this hourlong evening of playfully profound theater.” And, “Mr. Eno dares to believe that the theater is a natural forum for a collective reckoning with the brutal truths and the consoling beauties of experience – all those big-ticket items that you would blush to discuss publicly. His despairing figures lay bare their lonely, wounded hearts without blinking, holding mirrors up to our own. What better place for such an encounter? At the theater, after all, we can feel most powerfully a sense of communion in life’s solitude. It is the place to feel alone together.”

OH, THE HUMANITY AND OTHER EXCLAMATIONS is only scheduled to run till Dec. 22, so hurry to New York if you want to see it.

And opening on Broadway, at The Booth Theatre, just after the stagehands’ strike was THE SEAFARER by Conor McPherson, playwright of ST. NICHOLAS, presented by Midnight in both 2004 and 2005 in different venues, and THE GOOD THIEF, which will be presented in Spring, 2008.

THE SEAFARER is a story of group of hard-drinking Irishmen in a game of high-stakes poker one Christmas Eve. They are joined by a stranger who may be, for all intents and purposes, the devil.

The play echoes the supernatural aspects of many of McPherson’s works: the ghosts in THE WEIR, the vampires in ST. NICHOLAS, and the ghost of a man’s dead wife that he tries to reveal to a psychiatrist in SHINING CITY. In a feature article in The New York Times, McPherson explained the “immediate inspiration” for THE SEAFARER. “There’s a myth in County Wicklow about the Hellfire Club,” he said. “It’s just a ruin now. But it was a place where English aristocrat landlords would go and be debauched. The story is that they were playing poker one night when a stranger knocked and came in. Someone drops a card, and when he bends down to pick it up, he notices the stranger’s cloven foot. At that, the stranger disappears. Just when the story’s getting good, it stops.”

McPherson directed the production, as he did in its original incarnation in London, and the show features David Morse and Ciaran Hinds in the cast.

The New York Times review commented on the “gorgeous, vitally intelligent performances…one of the finest ensembles to grace a Broadway stage in years.,,It tingles with its author’s acute and authentic sense of what is knowable and unknowable in life…Most McPherson plays leave you feeling shaken and somber. This one concludes on a chord of sentimental uplift…you don’t have to believe in it to be moved by it. Besides, transporting acting like this has an amazing grace all its own.”

And in another bit of news that I just happened upon, though it occurred several months ago, Daniel MacIvor who wrote CUL-DE-SAC, produced by Midnight in early 2007, disbanded his theatre company of many years, Dada Kamera. The award-winning Company, based in Canada, was home base to MacIvor’s scripts and productions, many of them written by himself for himself, as a solo performer.

MacIvor re-visited the one-man show format, again and again. As a writer and a performer, he obviously found it an ideal (flexible) format to explore the many thoughts and themes he wanted to explore.

Just as I, as an actor/producer, have done (and am planning to do again this Spring.) I’ve become a little self-conscious at returning to this format as often as I have. It’s certainly a type of show that many people fashionably like to dismiss (and 2 out of every 3 critics like to begin their reviews of such with “usually, I don’t like one-man shows, but…”.)

I’d acted in probably 45 shows or so before I did a one-man show, and it was not my idea. I never had the temerity or ambition to do anything like that. And when I accepted the project, I was pretty much terrified.

Bob Hermann, a leftist lawyer in town (a big ACLU guy, who’s defended some controversial folks in town) was a lover of on-the-edge theatre. He saw a production of HURLEY BURLEY I acted in for City Players, and felt I could do justice to Eric Bogosian’s solo, DRINKING IN AMERICA. He hired HURLEY BURLEY’s director, Milt Zoth, to guide it, and produced it under the banner of his short-lived company, Dangerous Visions, at Zone 8 nightclub in the CWE, across from the Chase at the time.

It was daunting. Not only being alone on stage, but acting the dozen or so characters in the script. The required accents (Jersey, Puerto Rican African American) were a frightening proposition, and I forced Hermann to hire dialect coach for me (Alan Clarey from the Rep, and friend Ron Himes).

The show was successful, and energizing, giving me the confidence to tackle other shows like it down the line. I did the one man Harry Truman show, GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY! In 1992, primarily as a political statement, trying to support Bill Clinton and his party in the best way I knew how.

But I kept coming back to familiar territory with Bogosian, time and again. While rehearsing for DRINKING, I obtained an audio copy of his SEX, DRUGS AND ROCK ‘N ROLL. I thought it was great, but I thought “Whew, I’m glad I’m not doing that show right now. That’s a little rough for St. Louis.” But as Dave Wassilak and I produced a midnight season for the Orthwein, SEX, DRUGS seemed a fun, controversial, midnight season-style, convenient show to produce.

(And that’s one of the keys to one-person shows; they’re not easy by any means, but they are convenient. You can rehearse anywhere, at any time. And often produce pretty much anywhere as well.)

And when Dave and I started Midnight Company, our first production was pretty much a sure winner, Bogosian’s latest, POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD. (We later became the first company/performer besides Eric to produce/perform his THE WORST OF BOGOSIAN.) I had read POUNDING NAILS while we were producing SEX, DRUGS back at Orthwein, and thought then, “Whew, I’m glad I’m not doing that show right now. That’s a little rough for St. Louis.”

And in there I think are some of my motivations to continue to produce one-man shows. Two things drive me, inspire me, to do theatre: 1) It has to be a story that I want to tell, something fascinating to me, where I want to grab a person and say, “Listen to this!” like you would some weird news item, some new joke, or some particularly great piece of gossip. And 2) There has to be this frightening question to myself, “Can I pull this off? Can I make people buy into what I’m doing here?”

Those have been the driving factors behind the other one-man shows I’ve done – ST. NICHOLAS (an amazing story); ThomPain (a brilliant script); and CUL-DE-SAC (a great mystery, with the challenge of playing ten or so characters, including women and a 12-year old girl.)

And that’s what’s driving my upcoming show, THE GOOD THIEF. It’s a great, gripping story, but the character is one I’m scared but determined to tackle. Can I pull it off? I don’t know, but it’s a lot of fun working on it.

It may well be dismissed by many of the theatre hoi-polloi in town (during the contentious splitting of The Midnight Company, as my former partner skedaddled to The St. Louis Actors Studio, one of his new compadres quoted him as saying, “Joe just wants to do his ( ) one-man shows.”) (You can almost hear the word “little” in that open parentheses.)

It’s certainly not all I want to do; but when scripts so rich, with great stories, and deeply challenging characters, present themselves, I have little choice. I want to take on that character, and I want to tell that story.

That’s just one man’s story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

 


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Revised: October, 2007
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