Written and Performed by Charles Ross
Directed by TJ Dawe
Produced by Broadway in Chicago
“Well, from my point of view, The Friends of the Parks are evil!”—Darth Vader
With the release of The Force Awakens on DVD and the revelation of a new plan to build the Lucas Museum over a section of McCormick Place (assuming the Illinois General Assembly acts with alacrity and puts faith in Rahm), interest in the Star Wars has been revived to its highest peak in over ten years. So now is a good time for Charles Ross’s one-man adaptation of the original trilogy to return to Chicago, where it can be seen for the next few days at the Broadway Playhouse. Filled with onomatopoeia, hummed renditions of John Williams’s music, and direct quotations, but lacking any props or scenery, this highly energetic romp is great fun for die-hard fans, and amusing for casual Star Wars consumers.
As soon as Charles Ross emerges onstage, he jumps into his manic recreation of A New Hope, beginning with an imperial officer announcing, “Lord Vader, exposition, exposition, exposition.” There’s nothing lazy about his performance, though, and Ross’s use of his hands to represent Princess Leia’s bagel-hair won over any members of the audience who hadn’t already bought into the show. (I won’t give away all his surprises, but a lot of the show’s humor comes from the childlike way Ross has of using his physicality to describe things). Episode IV proceeds at a break-neck pace, pausing only for Ross to express bemusement at the Rebels’ use of the metric system, because I guess that’s the strangest thing about the movie. His impression of Luke’s whining also got big laughs.
Once the first third of the show is over, Ross speaks to the audience directly, and feels out how to proceed. At opening night, there was one poor soul who admitted to having never seen a single Star Wars movie, and therefore, was quite confused, and destined to remain so. This person became the source of a great deal of fun, but Ross also seemed genuinely apologetic. Ross also takes the opportunity to relate some funny personal anecdotes about the impact the film series has had on his life. He’s been doing this show off-and-on for fifteen years now, and has used it as the inspiration for one-man versions of The Lord of the Rings and his upcoming adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The audience itself was diverse and composed entirely of well-behaved, appreciative people, so potential buyers need not worry that this is some sort of fanboy ghetto.
You will pay for sitting in the front row.
Ross’s retellings of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are a lot more similar to the fan-work genre today known as “The Abridged Series.” He comments more about the absurdities of the story, and drops in a lot more humorous references to the prequels, but also makes a greater effort to capture the emotional heart of the trilogy. Ross also throws in references to the memes and other bits of fan activity that have emerged since he created this show, prior to the rise of the internet or Episodes II and III, but these moments seldom overwhelm the basic point of telling the story. Despite how heavily abbreviated the one-man trilogy is, Ross used nearly all of the Emperor’s dialogue without paraphrasing or truncating, (who could resist?) and the character’s scenes are the high point of the night as both a parody and a tribute. Also notable is that, while Ross’s rapid transformations sometimes come at the cost of his enunciation, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing is still distinct, and by the end of the show, he’s been working out for over an hour. If you go, and every Star Wars fan should at least once, be sure to stay for Ross’s story afterwards about the early development of the one man trilogy and how he reached an agreement with Lucasfilm, because it’s fascinating in its own right.
Reviewed April 20, 2016
For more information, see One-Man Star Wars Trilogy’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E Chestnut, Chicago. Tickets are $35-65.; to order, call 800-775-2000 or visit BroadwayinChicago.com. Performances are April 21 at 7:30 pm, April 22 at 7:30 pm, April 23 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and April 24 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Running time is seventy-five minutes, ninety minutes including the post-show.