Remember when your little brother re-enacted every “Star Wars” scene in your basement when you were kids – complete with voice impersonations, sound effects and light saber battles?
Fast-forward about 35 years and you’ll see him all grown up, onstage, wielding an imaginary light saber and occasionally cracking himself up in ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY, now playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
This show is almost strictly for hard-core “Star Wars” nerds. Charles Ross, who wrote and has been performing the show since 2001, knows this and makes no apologies. Nor should he. It is entertaining for what it is and for whom it is intended.
Ross takes the stage wearing a black flight suit and black, barefoot running shoes. The stage is also black, and empty. There are no props, not even a toy light saber (even though he’s holding one in the photo above). Ross more than makes up for that through his spot-on light-saber sound-effect. (There are no canned noises; Ross does them all through his voice.)
In a swift 75 minutes, Ross performs the first three “Star Wars” films ever produced. (For those not in the know, those would be episodes IV, V and VI: “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”) He even re-enacts the words that scroll at the beginning of each film. From there, the details fly by. If you don’t know the films by heart, you may get confused. And even though there is some dialogue, probably 70 percent of the show is sound effects and physical movement.
When there are words spoken, such as when he’s impersonating one of the beloved (or not-so-beloved) characters, Ross sometimes speaks so fast or mumbles that it’s difficult to decipher. It’s as if he is indeed in his basement just talking aloud to himself.
He does infuse asides and inside jokes throughout the re-enactments (as anyone playing “Star Wars” alone would), such as dissing Jar Jar Binks and adding his own dialogue. When Darth Vader takes off his mask, “Luke” says, “I thought you were black.” “Vader” answers: “No, that’sJames Earl Jones, my voice.”
Ross’ best impersonations are of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 (uncanny accuracy). And his Jabba the Hut brought down the house. The rest are just OK. He demonstrates Han Solo’s cocky personality with crotch grabs, which doesn’t really translate. One can imagine getting down the voices of Darth Vader and Yoda would be difficult; then again, he’s had 15 years to perfect it.
In between the three re-enactments, Ross speaks directly to the audience. He’s very polite (he is Canadian, after all) and earnest in this super-specific, geeky endeavor. He takes a poll to gauge audience affection for the subject, and on Tuesday night, there was actually one person in the audience who confessed to never having seen a “Star Wars” film. Ross seemed stunned but then had fodder for added jokes throughout the show. He singled out another woman, whose continual and loud guffaws delighted him. “You are welcome at every single one of my shows…free of charge,” he said.
Ross’ self-awareness about his subject and how it affects a certain population is endearing, and he’s at his best when engaging with the audience. He tells a poignant story about his own father taking him to see the “Star Wars” films as a kid – and he also makes it funny. One wonders whether a stand-up act built around the “Star Wars” theme instead of the other way around might not appeal to a more broad audience.
Think about it, he should.
ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY runs through April 24 at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut. Tickets : $35-$65. Call (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com.
by Teresa Budasi