Saturday, March 20, 2010

John Lennon, Gertrude Stein and Harry Truman...

Went to see a one-person show last night on the life and music of John Lennon. The songs really reminded me of what a genius Lennon was. Really nostalgic. The script, not so good. The actor, not so good. The music, excellent.

But it reminded me of the one-person shows I'd seen and done over the years. I've done three of them. Golden Eggs, one that I wrote, seamless direction by the sly Jeff Wood, about a young man making a decision about an accidental pregnancy, Farley and Daisy, another that I wrote and again with Jeff directing, about an agoraphobic too afraid to leave his apartment after his cat dies so he substitutes his toaster for the dead pet (back then, hell, I'd write about anything) and Give Em Hell, Harry, a two and half hour marathon show about Harry Truman that I took on an Equity National Tour.

They're beasts, these one-person shows. It's all squarely on the actor's shoulders. Moriarty once told me that a play is only as good as the weakest actor in it. Well, in a one-person get my drift. If it doesn't work, no one to blame but yourself.

I've seen a few over the years. My favorite, to this day, is Pat Carroll's show...Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein. Saw it way back in the early eighties. Wonderful writing, brilliant acting. I still use it as my litmus test for one-person shows.

I saw Rosemary Harris do a one-person juggernaut about Emily Dickinson. Oy. Script bored me to tears...but Harris was, not surprisingly, great.

I saw Michael Moriarty do one that he wrote years ago, about Jack Nicholson meeting William Shakespeare. Very odd little piece. But Moriarty is, of course, always fascinating. The one thing I do remember about that was his imitation of Nicholson was awful. Sorry, Michael, if you're reading this.

Saw my buddy, Brad Greenquist, do a one-person show years ago in NY about...well, I'm not sure what it was about. But it was long. Love Brad and I think the world of his talent, but God, that night was a long one.

Give Em Hell, Harry was a great experience. Started the play in Rochester, NY, with a little theatre called DCT. Terrible people run the place, clueless about theatre in general, but they gave me a free rein on creating the show. James Whitmore, you might remember, did the piece originally in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center back in 1975.

I watched hours and hours of news footage about Truman, read everything I could get my hands on. A very good director, Dick St. George, was brought in for it. Dick is also a fine actor and, strangely, a year later, I directed Dick in another one-person show called BULLY!, about the life and times of Teddy Roosevelt.

So I'm no stranger to all of this. Last night I was reminded again how hard they are. An actor really has to have some chops to pull it off.

I'm working on a one-person show now, in fact. Not for me, but for my friend James Barbour. It's called 3 UPPER and it recounts a very difficult time James saw his way through in recent years. Very powerful stuff. James is doing the lead in The Geffen's production of a new musical called Nightmare Alley, based on an old film with Tyrone Power. I suspect once that's finished we'll start rehearsing 3 UPPER. My NYC readers should look for it Off-Broadway sometime next season. I promise it will shock and awe you. Some very gritty stuff. And James will be doing the kind of acting he's not known for but he's very good at...remember, he was classically trained, he's not just a musical theatre fluff actor. I'm excited about it.

One final thing. I grew up about an hour from where Harry Truman lived, Independence, Missouri. On tour I remember one review, I think we were in Toronto at the time. It said, "Mr. Morts never quite accomplishes the Missouri accent although his joy in playing Truman is worth the price of admission." Eh? Whatcha' gonna do.

See you tomorrow.