Wednesday, November 15, 2006

REVIEW: One Man Star Wars Trilogy (Spirit, Dublin)

A long time ago in a galaxy far away…or at least in Toronto, in 2001, Charles Ross took the stage for the first time to perform his One Man Star War Trilogy. Now, some 1000 performances later, the Canadian actor arrives in Dublin ready to recreate Lucas’ original films using only his bare hands, a flexible vocal technique and a head-mounted mic.

This kind of undertaking requires – and here gets the benefit of – plenty of adroit stagecraft and comedic know-how. But when Ross is in full flight, pulling faces and whooping out an extraordinary collection of vocal sound effects, it still calls to mind an imaginative six-year-old boy child at play.

This child, of course, can recreate various classes of Rebel Alliance fighter with a bend of his elbow. He can lunge, parry and riposte a lightsabres with just the power of his voice. He can mash up scenes and characters at will, energetically conjuring up everyone from Luke to his father, from Jabba The Hut to Chewbacca, while jaunting us at faster-than-light speed between Tatooine and the Death star.

There is something almost wistful about this attempt to recapture a flavour of the naive enjoyment first felt sitting in a darkened room, hearing John Williams’ bombastic theme tune and seeing the yellow letters of the epilogue to Star Wars scroll off into the darkness of space.

What is most impressive, however, is the way this nostalgia somehow gets embedded in Ross’s frantic, headlong rush. The pace of it all is phenomenal. Ross races through three movies in just 60 minutes making almost no concessions for those who have not done their homework. This one clearly does not see his job as retelling the Star Wars saga so much as officiating at a communal celebration of its values.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Charles Ross's One Man Star Wars

The One Man Star Wars Trilogy might sound like where George Lucas’ scifi epic was heading all the time. As the director began to people his Star Wars films with more and more computer animated characters, and fewer and fewer real actors, the plan might always have been to end up with just one flesh and blood star.

As it happens, however, The One Man Star Wars is not the latest in that sad progression, but instead an frighteningly ambitious night at the theatre from Canadian actor, Charles Ross. Like it says on the can, Ross’s stage show recreates the entire first trilogy of Star War movies through the work of just one man. Quite an economical approach, then?

“I’d say that One Man Star Wars has the same limited-by-funds lineage that the original film (A New Hope) had,” says Ross. “Back to basics by virtue that all I could afford was the basics. It’s a good mind set to have when creating theatre: an obsession with economy in all aspects. My show has no sets, costumes, props, or music. All I use is a wireless microphone (for when I’m in enormous venues) and a simple lighting design.”

It is hard to believe that anyone who comes to see Ross version of Star Wars will be more of an obsessive than the actor, who claims to have seen the first Star Wars film more than 400 times by the age of 10. But a certain knowledge of the trilogy is pretty much de rigueur here.

“The audience meets me more than half way because as much as I’m trying to recreate the story of Star Wars on stage I’m also drawing the memories of Star Wars from the audience” he says. “Where I lack in some aspects in my ability to conjure the story the audience fills in the blanks with their imaginations.”

Ross first performed his One Man Star Wars Trilogy in Toronto, in 2001, at a time long before he secured the permission to do so from the legendarily litigious Lucas organization. And while he performs in other shows – he has lately managed to turn the Lord of the Rings trilogy into yet another one man show!Ross is still touring the galaxy with Star Wars. Up to now he has performed that show more than 1000 times.

“The permission, ie, licensing, happened after the show had been touring for a few months. This is neither the recommended nor legal way of doing a show like this,” says Ross, who was simple taken unawares at the show’s longevity.

“In retrospect, honestly, I didn’t think the show’s life expectancy would extend beyond a couple of performances. I’m now a licensed by-product of what the Star Wars series has spawned. The question is: am I an evolution or a mutation of the Star Wars geek?”

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Monday, November 29, 1999

Martin Duffy's Trilogy

In Ireland, it sometimes seems, there is really only one type of director, the auteur, a filmmaker whose every move is regarded as part of a grander artistic statement that can only be written through pain and fidelity to a personal vision and long periods of inactivity.

There really is no option for a features director working in Ireland to exist in any other fashion. Which is why Martin Duffy has just spent some time in American.

"I just didn't want to get into that cycle that many Irish directors seem to enter. You make a film and its well received, but then you spend years and years trying to get the funding for your next film. So I decided a keep working instead," says the director.

Duffy, a former film editor and children's novelist, has opted instead to take the route of director for hire. Plenty of offers came in following his charming first feature, The Boy from Mercury, so the director simply accepted some.

"I think people when people wonder what you've been doing, they can respect that just in terms of the human commitment needed to embark on making a film," says Duffy.

The first project he embarked on is The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (showing at the Junior Dublin Film Festival) a children's film based on a novel by Robert Cormier. It stars a pair of hot Hollywood teenage properties: Elijah Wood, who first cropped up in the title role of Witness with Harrison Ford, and who has lately grown up fast in The Ice Storm; and Rachel Leigh Cook, who featured in the summer teen flick, She's All That.

It should perhaps not come as a surprise that Duffy, whose work has explored the world of young people, does not generally have much time for the machinery of building a Hollywood career.

"The American tend career paths rather than simply be actors. They don't just read a script a say 'that seems like an interesting role'. Everything has to fit into a plan for the way their career should be moving," he says.

After his lucrative spell as a "director for hire" Duffy feels he has the space to change tack again. He will make another film in Wales, starring Jonathan Price, but then it is back onto his own projects, even if he still sees the attraction of being a director in the American style. "I actually turned down another American film just this week. I had to sit down and have a cup of tea after that. I had to remind myself that even if nothing got moving, I wouldn't be on the side of the road for another eight months..."

His plan now is to begin work on a project that fans of George Lucas' Star Wars may just think they've heard somewhere before. "Yeah, this is going to sound very familiar," says the director rubbing the stubble on his chin, "but I want to make a trilogy of science fiction movies."

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