The Silly Season is Upon Us
By Geary Danihy
It’s summer, which means here in Connecticut there are at least 700 outdoor and indoor productions of the Bard’s plays – shrews, asses and merry wives are in abundance – as well as comedic fare at many of the venues.
Following on the heel’s of the opening of ‘Til Death Do Us Part, on its Stage II, Long Wharf Theatre is offering One-Man Star Wars Trilogy on its Main Stage, while Hartford Stage is hosting the Umbilical Brothers in THWAK! The two productions have mime in common, but if they are birds of a feather, then Star Wars is a caged bird, limited by its subject matter, whereas THWAK! is free to soar as high as it wants, limited (if limits there be) only by its creators’ imaginations.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, a one-hour whirlwind tour of episodes IV through VI of George Lucas’s space saga, is the creation of Charles Ross, a talented actor and mime who evinces a dry wit as he manfully presents in abridged form the trials and tribulations of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia. R2-D2, Chewbacca, Yoda, C3PO and various and sundry other characters including wonderful interpretations of Jabba the Hut and Admiral Ackbar.
It goes without saying that familiarity with the three films is an absolute necessity. Those who have not seen the films will sit with their jaws sagging as they try to figure out exactly what is going on. Even for those with more than a passing knowledge of the three films’ plots there are moments when only a Star Wars geek will fully “get” what Ross is up to.
There are three main pleasures to be had in watching Ross’s performance: the first is the pleasure of recognition, the many “Ah, yes, I remember that” moments as Ross works his way through the plots; the second is the pleasure of seeing mime so well performed that you can “visualize” what is actually not there; and the third are the asides Ross throws in – comments about the productions, the characters and the mania that has surrounded the saga since the appearance of Episode IV. Unfortunately, many of these comments and asides are lost, mainly due to timing on Ross’s part, his words either coming out too fast or, not waiting for audience laughter to subside, too soon.
The one major drawback to Star Wars is that it is, in essence, a one-trick pony. To accomplish what he has set out to do, Ross cannot stray too far from the confines of the films themselves and this leads to a certain amount of boredom setting in (as it did in watching the films upon which the performance is based). The novelty of his recreation soon wears off and what we are left with is something akin to a precocious child entertaining his elders by acting out – it’s at first engaging but after a while, because the youngster doesn’t know when to stop, it begins to pale.
Such is not the case with THWACK!, for although Shane Dundas and David Collins, the two Aussie actors who have aptly named themselves the Umbilical Brothers, do act out just about every conceivable childhood fantasy, they are not constricted by any preconceived structure so they are free to allow their imaginations to soar, taking the audience along with them.
THWACK! is a loose series of set-pieces in which, for the most part, Dundas supplies both the dialogue and the marvelous sound effects while Collins, the self-dubbed “Action Man,” provides…well…the action. What follows is a blend of The Three Stooges, Animaniacs and The Smothers Brothers spiced with the two actors’ special blend of insanity.
The first skit is representative of the ludic nature of the performance. Dundas asks for a put-down from the audience. One is quickly provided and the two actors proceed to retaliate, first with rocks, then a bow and arrow, a pistol…all the way up to a tank that Collins “drives” on stage and then, after throwing a multiplicity of switches, adjusts the turret and fires the tank’s cannon at the audience. The piece ends with the throwing of a “grenade” out into the audience only to have it retrieved by a “dog,” which Collins tosses up into the air. The dog explodes, but not to worry for, you see, it wasn’t a “real” dog, as the two explain and demonstrate at the end of the skit.
That all of this is acted out with nary a prop is a wonder, and the wonder continues throughout the evening, with cartoon characters being barbecued, hand puppets doing battle, an intimate delivery of a tender love ballad constantly interrupted and a blazing gun battle between the two “brothers” that segues into a memorable “tap off” that concludes the evening.
For anyone who, as a child, was “shot” and died gloriously by rolling down a hill only to pop up and do it all over again, the manifest pleasures of THWACK! are enhanced by the fact that you will leave the theater feeling, if only for a moment, like a kid again. In these dour and trouble-filled times, that alone is worth the price of admission.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy runs through Sunday, July 26. For tickets or more information call 787-4284 or go to www.longwharf.org. THWACK! runs through Sunday, Aug. 2. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordstage.org.
To learn what other critics think of these productions, or more about theater in Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.
This review originally ran in the Norwalk Citizen-News.