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'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.

"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 - Playwright

John Clancy is an OBIE award winning director and a partner in Clancy Productions, a critically acclaimed international theatrical touring and production company.

 

He is the founding Artistic Director of The Present Company, a leading Off-Off Broadway theatre company and a founding Artistic Director of The New York International Fringe Festival, North America’s largest theater and performance festival.  He served as the Executive Director of the League of Independent Theater, the advocacy organization for Off-Off Broadway and the president of the Board of The Indie Theater Fund.  

 

His plays have won The American Shorts Contest, The San Francisco Playwrights Center Dramarama, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe First and have been short-listed for the Julie Harris Playwrighting Award and the Actors Theatre of Louisville Heideman Award. 

 

He has directed six Scotsman Fringe First winning productions at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and two Best of the Fringe Award winning productions at the Adelaide Fringe.  His shows have played the Menier Chocolate Factory (London), The Helix (Dublin), The Traverse, (Edinburgh), The Tron (Glasgow), the World Stage Festival, (Toronto), The Belvoir Street Theatre, (Sydney) and PS 122, the Ohio Theatre and Barrow Street Theatre in New York City.

 

He serves on the Advisory Council of The New York Theatre Experience, Inc., the city’s preeminent resource center for downtown theater. He is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect and was awarded The New York Magazine Award in 1997 for “creativity, enterprise and vision”. In 2002 he received a Glasgow Herald Angel for excellence in direction at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2007 Clancy Productions was awarded the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival Award.