Charles Ross must feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Who can blame him? He's blessed with the opportunity to satisfy himself not only as a theatre artist but also as a contribution member of the international brotherhood of Star Wars geekdom. Better yet, he's getting paid - and at least mildly famous - for it. Who could ask for anything more?
Certainly not audiences. Watching Ross's One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, which just opened at the Lamb's, is as delectable a treat as performing it must be: You get to not only bask in one man's undying affection for a series of movies that have insinuated themselves into popular culture in a way few others have in recent decades, but you even get to laugh yourself silly. Not a bad deal.
Yes, those with near-encyclopedic knowledge of the landmark film franchise will undoubtedly get more from this 65-minute tour de force than will casual moviegoers. But you don't need to have memorized every line from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi (not the newfangled prequels, thank you) to have a great time - you simply need to understand Ross's devotion to something that means a great deal to him. It's this love and affection for the source material - to say nothing of Ross's obvious reverence and respect for the theatre as an art form - that makes Ross's show so captivating and heartening.
And - let's just get this right out here - infinitely funnier than Spamalot, New York's current reigning champ for courting the near-mythical straight male non-theatregoer demographic. (That tickets to One-Man Star Wars Trilogy cost less than half as much and are easier to obtain must be stressed at this point.) That show and others of its ilk see theatre solely as a way to rake in millions of dollars but feel no obligation to give audiences anything to take home with them that they don't bring into the theater.
Ross, however, delights in both caressing and violating expectations and cherished memories, and in doing so creates something that, while familiar, is entirely new. He does it with a limited but theatrical arsenal that includes only his wits, his apparently limitless energy, a varied but simple lighting plot (by Mike Schaldemose), and a featureless black jumpsuit as his sole apparel. And yet he utterly convinces in recreating most aspects of George Lucas's epic space opera, from the very beginning (the 20th Century Fox fanfare preceding the Star Wars credits) to the end (the celebration following the Empire's defeat).
Watch, for example, how Ross's locked arms and legs so strongly evoke Anthony Daniels's stiffly subservient C-3PO. Or how, with a narrow-eyed glare accented by a barely raised eyebrow, he embodies Jedi master Yoda, despite being several feet too tall and several dozen shades less green. Or how, by bending over and collapsing on his knees, he mimics the Rebel attacks on the Imperial AT-AT walkers on the ice planet Hoth. Or how, by injecting an ancient streak into his voice and glare, he becomes the spitting image of Ian McDiarmid's lecherous Emperor Palpatine. (This is the Ross's most eerily accurate impersonation.)
The hardest of die-hard Star Wars devotees might be disheartened by some of Ross's omissions - he doesn't weigh in on whether Greedo should fire first, for instance. And those with only a basic working knowledge of the films might roll their eyes at Ross's reenactments of considerable portions of John Williams's legendary soundtrack, or of the scrolling exposition that famously crunches months or years into mere moments of screen time.
But these are necessary elements in the show's free-wheeling, parlor-game appeal; to leave them out would be to ignore integral parts of the Star Wars phenomenon. And while Ross can't resist the desire to comment on what he's presenting (such as why Chewbacca doesn't receive a medal at the end of Star Wars, or musing on the subtext the recent films added to Obi-Wan's admission of lying to Luke about his father), everything is kept strictly family-friendly, and, with the help of director TJ Dawe, as restrained as possible.
Not that Ross holds much back - he bounds around the stage continuously, pausing only occasionally for dramatic effect or to deliver a line that, as usually happens, brings down the house. He barely has a chance to fully catch his breath until his post-curtain call speech in which he stresses that he's living out his dream, and that everyone in the audience should be willing to take the plunge and do the same. It's an ennobling, if unnecessary, statement: By then, he's spent over an hour proving in that way - and many others - that the Force is with him. And, ultimately, with us.
The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy