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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Geek Theater

Charles Ross’ One-Man Star Wars Trilogy explodes with affection for a pop-culture touchstone.

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Charles Ross stands on a stage, dressed entirely in black, sans props and indeed any theatrical support of any kind beyond some simple lighting changes. In that space, he brings to life the Star Wars films in a way that, to devoted fans, is instantly recognizable at the same time that it is Ross’ own uniquely insane vision. His One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is a triumph of fannish adoration, snarky commentary and offbeat theater.

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It’s also delightfully exhausting to behold. Ross does all the voices and all the sound effects. He runs around the stage with his arms wide in imitation of an X-wing fighter; he leaps into the air spread-eagled to signify the Death Star exploding; he fights both sides of every light-saber duel. He drinks several bottles of water during the course of the 70-minute, intermission-free show and appears to sweat it all off again. He has achieved the dream of health-conscious geeks everywhere: He has combined a workout with an excuse to whine like Luke Skywalker.

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Like Luke, Canadian actor Ross was a small-town kid with big dreams. He sees Luke’s appeal for all of us, and for the wide-eyed dreamer he once was in particular. “When they call it A New Hope,” Ross said of the original 1977 Star Wars in a phone interview, “I think it’s a new hope for everybody'for anyone who comes from a small town or feels isolated within a city, someone who doesn’t really know what their personal power might be. Having a sense of adventure can take a person far away from the place that they’re feeling that they’re stuck in.

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“Maybe what I’m doing is not going to change anybody’s life, per se, but it might challenge people’s perceptions of what one person can do.nn

If you don’t find it hilarious that Luke’s big dream, at least as Star Wars opens, is to run into Toschi Station to pick up some power converters, then there is no reason at all to show up for Ross’ performance. This is not for you. It’s for those who understand how a show like this can be, as Ross himself explains, “autobiogeekical.nn

As Ross runs through a condensed version of the three original Star Wars movies, he approximates how fans experience the films each and every time we watch them: We speak along with some of the dialogue, scoffing at some lines, respectful of others. We let our attentions wander during some moments and focus intently at others. We appreciate deeply both the wisdom and the goofiness of it all. We make fun among ourselves but defend it when outsiders dare to denigrate it. This isn’t about perfect impersonations of famous actors; it’s emphatically not about watching Ross and seeing Sir Alec Guinness or Mark Hamill. It’s about watching Ross and seeing ourselves. He holds up a mirror to our own geekitude and shows us how silly and how wonderful a healthy dose of grownup playfulness can be.

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He watches the audience at each of his performances, too. “I’m seeing new things in the audience” with each show, he says, “because the audience is never the same. And every time I think I might have it pegged, I find myself wrong. It really is always like having a brand new cast member.nn

And when fans stop him after the show to chat? “People surprise me at how much they know of the movies, how much they’ve thought about them. Sometimes I think people are almost a bit tentative to really state how much they like the films, or how much the films really do mean to them.nn

It’s clear the films mean a great deal to Ross as well'and must have been clear to George Lucas, who has given Ross’ performance his seal of approval and a place at his officially sanctioned conventions. He has a refreshingly childlike enthusiasm and uninhibited manner that is missing from many actors and performers on any stage. One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is like watching an 8-year-old boy explaining to his mother what happens in the movie'“and then the ship blew up! Pwarh! Blam! And then there was a duel! Wharm! Wharm! And then there were these cool monsters that went rawrgh!” Ross loses himself in his performance, giving over to it, believing in the inanity of it entirely so that it has the kind of integrity that makes it breathe, laugh and live. It ain’t Shakespeare, of course, but some Shakespeare productions could benefit from that lack of restraint and generosity of self on the part of its cast.

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Ross’ performance will mystify anyone who hasn’t seen Star Wars a hundred times'although why anyone who hasn’t seen Star Wars a hundred times would even turn out for the show is a mystery itself. Even with that limitation, Ross still has a potential audience of millions, because Star Wars is the shared cultural experience of an entire generation, one that he has distilled into an adoring but never entirely reverent nugget of delicious lunacy.

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CHARLES ROSS: ONE-Man Star Wars Trilogy
nJeanné Wagner Theatre
nRose Wagner Center
n158 W. 300 South
nMay 1–5
n355-ARTS