As we enter the Spoleto 2010 home stretch — there are five days left at press time — we start to recognize some over-arching trends that will ultimately define this year’s festival. Strong contemporary dance was a huge one — from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo to Gallim Dance to Sideways Dance Company to Oyster. Then there are the two big female-led operas — Flora and Proserpina — that were noteworthy for their stark contrasts. But I’m placing my bets on a few of this year’s most subtle, understated offerings: the monologues.
These one-man shows are characterized by stark sets and fairly straightforward scripts, relying on the talent of the stars to set them apart. While the larger, colorful productions were more apt to pilfer the pre-festival buzz, the monologues have managed to keep people talking. We assume they’ll be talking long after the festival’s close.
Just take a look at David Lee Nelson, this week’s cover boy. The 2000 College of Charleston graduate is now based in New York, but makes it a point to revisit his old stomping grounds regularly — particularly during Spoleto. His show Status Update combines brief, heart-wrenching films with stand-up comedy to reflect on love and loss in our social media-obsessed world. “I sometimes feel like I’m doing a stand-up comedy tragedy, which is pretty cool and unique I think,” he says. We think so, too.
Daniel MacIvor’s This Is What Happens Next is strikingly similar to Status Update in some ways. MacIvor, a well-known Canadian actor, is a man dealing with divorce and addiction, too — but there are some key differences. For one, MacIvor is gay, and as far as we can tell he hasn’t completely kicked some of his additions. And unlike Nelson, his show is not entirely autobiographical. He plays a variety of characters, some fictional, others inspired by people in his life, and we wind up feeling like we’ve seen a play starring half a dozen people.
That’s not the only solo soul-searching we’ve seen at this year’s festival. Martin Dockery describes a life-changing trip across the world in Wanderlust. Patrick Combs talks about taking on a banking giant in Man 1 Bank 0. Erik Friedlander uses his cello to do most of the talking in the nostalgic Block Ice and Propane. And John Brennan, though he added a castmate to his signature Banana Monologues (changing it to the Manalogues) is just as hilariously moving as it ever was. One Man Star Wars Trilogy may not be classified as a monologue, but it is just one man relying on nothing but his wits to entertain the crowd.
Even a few ladies have gotten in on the trend: Joy Vandervort-Cobb has once again won over audiences with her returning autobiographical show, Moments of Joy. And though it’s based on Joan Didion’s memoirs, Lucille Arrington Keller’s powerful performance in Year of Magical Thinking has depressed and impressed us.
While these sleeper hits have charmed us, surprised us, and inspired us, do they have the clout to be remembered 10 years down the road? Do we need the bells and whistles, or is it really just about one man in the spotlight, pouring his heart out in the most entertaining way possible?
Of course, that remains to be seen, but I think this trend is very telling of 2010. A quiet year for Spoleto, but a powerful one. A sleeper year.