One-Man Lord of the Rings
Like the summer wind, blowin’ in, Charles Ross has breezed another tour-de-farce through San José Repertory Theatre. This time he shared his "One-Man Lord of the Rings" quest, following the solo "Star Wars" trilogy performance last year.
Instead of on Tatooine, we’re in Middle-earth now, with Ross playing all of J.R.R. Tolkien via Peter Jackson’s characters -- as well as providing the film credits, the CG, the musical accompaniment et. al. -- wearing those weird footie shoes and a rapidly sweat-soaked black jumpsuit.
This empty stage is a liminal space, a conduit for a performance piece based on movies adapted from books, meta-filtered through a mega-fan. Ross queried the audience to see how many had seen all three movies (almost everyone), and who had seen them in one sitting (also a large contingent). He was confounded by a few who had never seen the films, advising them that they would be totally lost.
This indicates the narrow purview of the show, and confirms that he’s preaching to the choir. My seatmate and I were some of the faithful, yet the frenetic speed and sameness of delivery had even us a bit lost on our journey toward Mount Doom. For fans of a certain age, it was hard to hear and understand the onslaught of lightning-fast lines.
Ross’s Gollum and Nazgûl imitations were the most distinct. The others bled together and his well-earned, yet still heavy, breathing into the headset microphone sounded more like Darth Vader than the various Fellowship fellows. The interstitial theme music was various versions of "yaw yaw yaw."
"One-Man Lord of the Rings" is a boy’s backyard battle dream, all "dooj-dooj" fight noises minus the action figures. However, highlighted story or character moments were lacking space, or a frame in which to absorb them. Commentary jokes were rare but effective, and also got lost in the mire. Ross referenced the Wachowski trilogy when playing Elfish Lord Elrond, who in the movie was played by Hugo Weaving, who also played Agent Smith in "The Matrix." Keeping track of these layers required almost the same stamina Ross shows on stage.
Because he was playing many diminutives such as Hobbits, Ross spent a good chunk of time on the floor, which obscured him from view and plunged audience sight lines into a Moria-like chasm. A humorous Stooge-inspired shoulder-spin was nearly invisible.
Simple light cues added some dimension, but also brought attention to the lack of sound elements, which might have provided some aural variety in the wall of dialogue.
Derivative theater certainly has a place in fandom, and it was comforting to see geek representatives being peaceful and supportive after the Aurora, Colorado, tragedy. Yet the pace should have better embraced its source materials instead of racing to finish three epic sagas in 75 minutes.
We care about these tales because the books allow their characters to develop, and the films take time with storytelling. Perhaps Gandalf should be heeded when he cautions, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
"One-Man Lord of the Rings" ran through July 29 at the San José Repertory Theatre, San José, CA. For more info about upcoming shows at San Jose Rep, visit the the website.