Spoleto 2011 » Comedy

One Man Lord of the Rings rules

Bow to your inner hobbit

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The conversation goes something like this:

Lord of the Rings Nerd: "Hold it. Hold it. I cannot take you seriously — I mean, I can not even keep talking to you — if you call it a trilogy."

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Person Who Actually Has a Life Outside Middle Earth: "The Lord of the Rings, man! Tolkien's trilogy. C'mon! I know you've seen it."

LOTR nerd (who is wearing an ivy green, organic cotton T-shirt that reads — in Elvish — "My parents went to Rivendell and all they got me was this lousy T-shirt"): "No! No! No! No! No! NO!"

PWAHALOME: "Seriously? You don't know the trilogy?"

LOTR nerd (takes a deep breath): Listen to me. Listen very carefully. There is no "trilogy". The Lord the Rings by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is one story, told in three parts and divided, all told, into six books.

PWAHALOME: "Oh! I gotcha. I was confused. So it's two trilogies. Weird! But hey, when's Peter Jackson gonna make the other three movies?"

There it is. In a nutshell. And if you're really in a hurry, here's a one sentence review of One Man Lord of the Rings at Theatre 99: "If either side of the conversation above made any sense to you, go see this show."

Wait. Crap! This just in. The two remaining performances for this show are sold out. Seriously.

Revised review:

"If you meet the previously stipulated criteria (see above), find someone with a ticket for this show and follow this Emergency Procedure:

1.) Render ticketholder unconscious (method of your choice).

2.) Extract One Man Lord of the Rings tickets from their left inside jacket pocket. Replace with $30 Barnes and Noble gift card.

3.) Conceal newly liberated tickets in a secure location. Do not, for example, put them in your left inside jacket pocket.

4.) Go see this show."

That's it. But for those of you with a bit more time, I can flesh that out a little.

With wildly impressionistic flair, Charles Ross' superlative One Man Lord of the Rings manages to distill Tolkien's most famous work into an hour-long celebration of Middle Earth mania.

Rather than try to squeeze the books down to postage-stamp size, Ross grabs a surrealistic remote control and fast-forwards through all the pivotal moments from director Peter Jackson's cinematic rendering of the Tolkien's multi-volume epic. Ross isn't trying to pawn this off as the full and complete Tolkien, either. He's willing to take moviemaker Jackson to task (gently) for pruning the book's plot lines down to something manageable. Which means living with a few glaring omissions. The justification? "Artistic license," say one Ross character. "That's why we have all Liv Tyler and no Tom Bombadil."

While Ross's interstitial asides are hilarious, the entire show is funny and not because Tolkien's material is humorous. Ross is too faithful to and respectful of the tale he's telling for that. Rather, it's recognizing that in these short bursts of multiple-personality frenzy, the entire tapestry of Tolkien's heroic characters and richly textured world has been conjured up right before your eyes and the sheer delight in this makes you laugh. Ross's micro-miniature marathon is spot on. Boromir's death scene is a great example of Ross creating a thumbnail sketch that's brilliant, oddly moving, and strangely hilarious all at the same time.

But the movie versions of Tolkien's heroes catch a little ribbing here and there, too. Ross's Legolas gets the satirical treatment with both barrels. The elf's apparent obsession with his long, excessively tidy hair is a standing joke that can turn a touching moment into something gently farcical.

For instance, when the elves in Lothlórien hear about the great wizard Gandalf's untimely death, the Ringbearer's companions listen as the forest around them fills with their voices in mournful, celestial lament. But Merry doesn't understand the elvish words of the song.

"What do they sing?" he asks Legolas, who must pause to pensively stroke his hair before answering, "Something really sad."

Ross has gone the extra mile with this show. His Middle Earth may not be precisely to scale, but lest anyone think that they're not getting the most comprehensive of condensed/edited/abridged Tolkien/Jackson epics, Ross is careful to point out that some passages of his show may not be immediately familiar since those bits derive from the DVD extended version. So there.

It was only at the end of the show, as the audience began making its way out and I lingered behind, that the single disappointment of the evening hit home: I was really hoping that Ross would do the DVD special features for us, too. Didn't happen. Maybe next time.

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