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November 4, 2011 | Theatre,

Flying Solo: The Thrill of the One-Person Show

By Corrie Glanville

Solo act shows offer the performer a rare opportunity to inhabit the theatrical space completely alone and to form a singular relationship with the audience. The Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland have taken on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, one of the great American novels and a work of enormous detail in an adaptation by Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett with Conor Lovett in the lone role.  Of course, a number of artists have attempted to bring everything from classics to their own work to the stage—let’s take a look at some other solo performance works in recent years.

Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol

While he is more well-known in this country for his portrayal of Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek, Patrick Stewart is an uncommonly gifted stage actor. His over 40-year career began at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s with Ben Kingsley and Ian Richardson. He then made his Broadway debut in Peter Brook’s legendary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, eventually landing at the Royal National Theatre where he further refined his technique as well as his incredibly distinctive voice. As television and film work flourished, Stewart found he missed the stage; so he set out to do a one-man show of his own of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which Stewart played all 40 characters! It was a tour-de-force that garnered popular and critical acclaim wherever he toured including on Broadway for which he won the Drama Desk award for Best Solo Performance in 1992. He continued to tour the show until 2005 to sold out houses. You can hear Stewart bring Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and even Tiny Tim to life for yourself on the Grammy-nominated recording.

David Sedaris’ The SantaLand Diaries

When “The SantaLand Diaries” premiered on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on December 23, 1992, it became clear in a matter of minutes that David Sedaris was a wildly entertaining comic voice unlike anything heard before on NPR or anywhere else. Whether it was his hilarious, humiliating account of working as a Macy’s elf or his deadpan delivery, Sedaris skyrocketed into the literary world with his first essay collection, Barrel Fever that included “The SantaLand Diaries.” It was Broadway actor & director Joe Mantello who adapted the piece as a one-man show for the Atlantic Theatre in 1996 with Timothy Olyphant as the star. Since then, this warped little holiday tale of Crumpet the Elf has become a seasonal staple of regional theaters everywhere.

Roger Rees’ What You Will

I was lucky enough to see Roger Rees, one the finest Shakespeare actors of his generation, in his one man show What You Will at the American Conservatory Theatre when I was living in San Francisco in 2008. I confess I’ve been smitten with Rees for ages since seeing his performance on PBS in the massive eight-hour adaptation of Nicolas Nickleby for which Rees won both the Tony and Olivier Awards, and I was not disappointed. Rees was delightful, juxtaposing Shakespeare’s soliloquies and sonnets with anecdotes from his own Shakespearean career, bawdy backstage tales and even school children’s reactions to studying the plays (“I wish Shakespeare were dead.”)  Warm, funny and brilliant, Rees proved to be the perfect host for an evening spent in the world of the Bard.

Even if you never read (or finished) Moby Dick, do not miss this chance to see what Irish Theatre Magazine pronounced as “a theater that exists in the relationship between the audience and the actor, and this is the type of theatre that Conor Lovett-a phenomenal, almost artless performer-was born for.”

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