'The Event' is pure, refreshing theater

By ROBERT TRUSSELL, The Kansas City Star

 

First, the easy part: You've never seen a theater piece quite like "The Event." Bob Paisley, co-founder of the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, first saw John Clancy's one-actor play at the mother ship of all fringe festivals in Edinburgh, Scotland. It fascinated him, as it should have, and he resolved to learn the piece and perform it himself.

 

Since then Paisley has acted the show in Kansas City, New York and Britain, and now he's doing it again for the KC Fringe Festival. If I could see a festival show twice, this would be the one.

 

Performing as John Robert Paisley, the actor plays an actor with no name who describes in precise, often ironic and sometimes hilarious language just what's involved — emotionally, psychologically, philosophically - in performing for an audience.

 

At this point you may be thinking: Oh great; a theater piece about the theater; give me a break. In most cases you'd be right. But "The Event" is its own animal, unlike anything I've seen. Paisley's challenge is to play a character who is not defined except by his relationship to his audience. Everything that happens happens in the moment. There's no "back story," no questions of "motivation."

For 60 minutes Paisley holds the stage, bare except for the appearance of a chair about midway through, and describes his relationship to the audience, his relationship to the unseen man in the control booth and the relationship between himself as an individual and the character he embodies.

 

And he analyzes the makeup of the audience. Some will be attentive. Some will nod off. Some will surreptitiously glance at their watches. The audience may also include "professional observers" — and Paisley couldn't resist glancing directly at me toward the end of this section — who will go away and write down their thoughts, which may influence others to attend or not attend, which is what I happen to be doing at this very moment.

 

Occasionally Paisley appears to forget his lines, but it's really just part of the script. Or is it? Paisley and the playwright toy with the audience's expectations and assumptions. At every turn the lines stimulate our imaginations. Every moment gives us something to think about.

 

Paisley's performance is memorable for its clarity. Every choice is precise.  Nothing gets lost in the haze. Every word counts. Every line affects the viewer.

 

The play may seem to be about the act of creating theater but ultimately it's about much more. It's about something fundamental in human chemistry that makes us want to communicate, to perform, to tell stories — all in the hope of making sense of the universe and discovering what our purpose here may actually be.

 

And it's accomplished by one actor, alone on a stage. This is pure theater, and how refreshing it is.

John Clancy - Playwright

"I wrote The Event with destruction and ill will in mind.

 

Having sat through a string of execrable one-person shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the summer of 2008, I set out to create a piece that would prevent a spectator from ever enjoying that particular art form again. I vowed to skewer the banality, pretention and preening self-importance of the solo player, the autobiographical excess and all of the other stock conventions of that ubiquitous, time-stealing, soul-deadening theatrical misstep: The One Man Show.

 

What I ended up scribbling down was quite a different thing.

I found myself marveling at the courage of my unnamed player and the deep strangeness of his predicament: stuck onstage, alone, in front of a room of strangers with nothing but memorized words and prescribed gestures to rely on. I had deprived him of any character, background, story or plot, so moment by moment he had to keep the strangers attention and move the event forward.

And with no plot, suspension of disbelief or any illusion at all to fill up the empty space of the stage, I found myself communicating directly and simply to the future strangers I imagined sitting in some distant room watching my poor player perform, more simply, more directly, and I believe more truthfully than I ever have before in any of my other plays.

It’s a strange play and I’m still not exactly sure how or why it works, but after countless productions all over the world I’m convinced that it has something to say to most of us, even if it is just a One Man Show".

John Clancy is a contemporary American playwright, novelist and director. He was a co-founder and first Artistic Director of the New York International Fringe Festival and its producing organization The Present Company. 

John Clancy's written work centers mainly on the American experience, and is characterized by dark humor and farce. His best-known play is Fatboy: An American Grotesque, a modern re-working of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi. His monologue The Event premiered in Edinburgh in 2009 and has gone on to tour Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States and has been translated into Greek and German.

Clancy's directing has earned six Fringe First Awards (Edinburgh Festival Fringe) and two Best of Fringe Awards (Adelaide Fringe Festival). He was awarded a 2005 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Direction, a 2002 Glasgow Herald Angel Award for Excellence in Direction, a 1997 New York Magazine Award, and a 2008 Dialogue ONE Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre.

He served as Executive Director of The League of Independent Theater, New York City's only 501(c)6 advocacy organization for the independent theater territory and Board President of The Independent Theater Fund,https://www.indietheaterfund.org/, a charitable foundation formed to sustain and strengthen the artists, companies, venues and practitioners of independent theater in New York City.

Clancy currently lives in Mt. Carmel, IL with his wife Nancy Walsh.  He is the President of Little Pharaoh Enterprises, an arts consultancy firm focusing on celebrating the art and heritage of the area known as Little Egypt in southern Illinois.  The Little Egypt Arts Center is dedicated to local artwork, and has a performance space for local artists to perform.