One-person shows flourish at the Fringe. It’s made for low-entry, low-tech offerings. And a one-hander’s as simple as it gets, right?
Hah. If you see Women of ‘The Hat’ this year (I saw it at the 2014 Son of Semele Solo Creation Festival), you’ll know otherwise. Melissa R. Randel masterfully weaves dance, multi-part acting, deft use of props and scenery, and precise tech support into a powerful, poignant story.
It ain’t easy. A big part of the challenge is that solo turns out to be — like a haiku or a sonnet — a severely limiting form. I’ve only ever seen three kinds: autobiography, biography, and storytelling (usually multi-character, though Colin Mitchell enchanted audiences with a single-character tale last year in Linden Arden Stole the Highlights).
The subject of a biography deserves to be known better than she or he is — that’s why the piece exists. So the show has to make this person engaging, and their story compelling.
Bella Merlin starts seducing with her title: Nell Gwynne: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution. If we’ve read Brit Lit, we know we’re in the 17th or 18th century. If we can’t recall one of London’s first actresses (and its most famous courtesan), no matter — Merlin, as Gwynne, welcomes us into her dressing room and fills us in at once.
The hour sails by jauntily, as Gwynne recounts her rise from theatre orange-seller to superstar to mistress of King Charles II (for her, “Charlie the Third,” as her first two patrons were named Charles). Along with the tale, Mrs. Gwynne treats us to a discreet strip-tease, shifting coyly from costume to costume.
But it’s not her sexuality that holds us, nor her charm — like the king, we’re fascinated by her shrewd intelligence, her wit, and the ironic fatalism with which she greets life’s vicissitudes. And her passion: Merlin gives us a Nell who is first and foremost an artist, dedicated for all her brief life (she died at 37) to the theatre.
By hour’s end, instead of a history lecture, we’ve enjoyed the company of an unforgettable woman. You can’t ask more of a biographical solo show.
(And lest you think it really is “solo” — Merlin’s hour upon the stage requires a director, a designer/assistant director, a stage manager, a production assistant, and a marketing and publicity manager.)
Nell Gwynne, by Bella Merlin, directed by Miles Anderson.
Presented by dr act, in the Ruby Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Sata Monica Blvd.
June 27 (8:30 pm).
THE INSIDE EDGE OF THE WORLD
One-person storytelling makes heavy demands on the performer. You must (usually) be able to carve out several roles, and move fluidly between narration and enactment. And — as in all solo shows — no one can give you cues, or energy to react to.
In The Inside Edge of the World: or, Where Have All the Good Serial Killers Gone?, Michael Evans Lopez adds a few more challenges. Most of his characters have eerily similar names; and one character is a dog.
Fortunately, Lopez (under the tight direction of Maria Pasquarelli) proves equal to the task. His bravura opening — establishing both man and dog while facing away from the audience — lets us know we’re in for a ride.
Our guide for the ride is a serial-killer geek who suspects his new neighbor, with pretty good reason. But, we soon learn, he also belongs to a cult, which has rechristened all its members and is eagerly approaching an off-planet rendezvous with the Others.
He suddenly finds himself called on to perform their penultimate rite on Earth (a neatly staged light show).
Twists and turns keep arriving, as our protagonist moves toward a climax that will demand some radical decisions. To Lopez’ credit (and Pasquarelli’s), the characters remain clear, the humor sharp, and the pathos effective right to the end.
That end is, surprisingly, uncertain. This tale, it turns out, isn’t about solving a mystery, but about coping with a mystery — our human separateness. Though it’s fast and funny, The Inside Edge of the World does indeed reach inside us.
The Inside Edge of the World, by Michael Evans Lopez, directed by Maria Pasquarelli.
Presented by Fist the Mountain Productions, at the Elephant Studio, 1078 Lillian Way.
June 27 (5:30 pm).
WOMEN OF ‘THE HAT’
If you want to see this one, you have two more chances.
Women of ‘The Hat’ … A Duet for One, written and directed by Melissa R. Randel.
Presented by Leap in the Dark Productions, at the Theatre of NOTE, 1517N. Cahuenga Blvd.
June 25 (7 pm) and June 26 (7 pm).