By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
There were a whole bunch of people at the exact place they wanted to be on opening night of One Man Star Wars Trilogy at the CLO Cabaret.
The show is a 75-minute hop, skip and jump through the first three Star Wars movies. Just to be tiresome, let me make sure I’m clear: though released first, the three are actually the fourth, fifth and sixth in the series. So we’re talking about A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The whole thing’s been written by Canadian actor Charles Ross, who is also the solo performer. There’s no set, no costumes, no props and only minimal light cues; it’s just Ross living his best geek life at the CLO Cabaret.
One Man Star Wars Trilogy continues through September 29. CLO Cabaret, Downtown. 412/456-6666. www.CLOCabaret.com
But God knows he wasn’t the only one. I don’t know if you’ve seen a show in the Cultural District, but the devices used to scan your tickets make a sound exactly like a lightsaber. It’s been that way for years, but as I was sitting near the door I got to experience the looks of joy spreading on audience faces as they walked into the space, delighted that the sound they hear on a loop in their head was suddenly in the real world as well.
I was also lucky to overhear three people who were there with a vengeance! and seated right behind me. Man #1: “Well, she said it wasn’t true and he only made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs because he cheated.” Another man laughed uproariously at this and a woman crowed with delight: “That is so Han!” There’s not a question in mind that many conversations of a similar nature where happening all around the room. And I love that.
While I certainly enjoyed the three first-released Star Wars movies I never became one of those rabid die-hard fans. But I’m not mocking them. I mean, since I spend most of my day listening to Kaye Ballad (Google her!) I’m in no position to yuck anybody’s yum. In fact, in an age when it’s considered beyond the pale to hold unalloyed, non-ironic enthusiasm, it’s cheering to be around people who love what they love and don’t care what you think.
And they couldn’t have found themselves in a better spot than One Man Star Wars Trilogy. Ross has come to praise the series, not bury it and the whole evening is one nerd onstage sending out laughs and love to the nerds in the audience.
Ross has been performing this show, or earlier incarnations of it, since 2001. Can you imagine? If you look up images from past engagements you can actually watch him age. It started as something of a stand-up routine with him performing a 15-minute version of A New Hope and that eventually morphed into a show he’s performed all around the world.
From the moment Ross begins, it’s immediately clear he knows exactly how the material works and where he needs to push in or pull back – having performed it what must be thousands of times means you are in the hands of an expert.
His take, at the beginning, is straight forward. He’s just recreating a stripped-down version of A New Hope. There’s no editorializing, no spoofing, no raised eyebrow … just Ross and his fiercely honed ability to imitate C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewie, Luke, Vader, Obi Wan and the whole nutty gang.
As he moves into Empire and then Jedi he does allow a few side comments gently lampooning some of the silliness. I welcomed this part because if I just wanted to watch a straight forward Star Wars movie I have them on DVD and his good-natured snark added a bit of snap to the material.
It’s impossible not to enjoy Ross as a performer, for even underneath the slick proficiency of a performance highly polished by years of repetition, there’s always a glimpse of a little boy on a Canadian farm watching a VCR copy of A New Hope spellbound with rapture. And, as a plus, Ross’ impersonation of Jabba the Hutt is nothing short of comic genius. (It sort of stuns me to think how many reviewers have written that exact thing in how many reviews before me.)
Ross mentions, and I concur, that if you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, you might find the evening remote and uninvolving … but then what the hell are you doing at a show called One Man Star Wars Trilogy anyway?