Aug. 26, 2005 - At the house lights go down, signaling the start of his one-man show, actor Charles Ross emerges onto a bare, dark stage and begins at the beginning: by humming the 20th Century Fox fanfare (Dum-dum, dum-dum, daaaaaaah-dum-dum …). It's an appropriately absurd beginning to his absurd endeavor: performing a live-stage version of the three movies chronicling the life and times of Luke Skywalker.
Ross's play, "The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy," which he performs without props, sets or costume changes, playfully condenses the plots and dialogue from "Star Wars" (1977), "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983) into a single frenetic hourlong presentation, without intermission.
In the course of the show (now playing at New York's Lamb's Theater through Oct. 31), Ross, 31, plays every major character (Luke, Leia, Darth Vader) and a good number of minor ones. His portrayal of the sluglike Admiral Ackbar ("It's a traaaaaap! A traaaaaap!") was a high point for much of the crowd. But between lines of stilted dialogue (embellished throughout with Ross's own sly commentary) he also convincingly mimics all the spaceships and hardware featured in the films, from the four-legged Imperial Walkers (AT-ATs to aficionados) to the Death Star's near-fatal garbage compactor. NEWSWEEK's Andrew B. Cohen spoke with Ross about the play, its popularity and being, as Ross puts it, a "sweaty dork for a living."
Excerpts: NEWSWEEK: In your mind, is this show more homage or parody?
Charles Ross: It's homage, but there's parody in it. Do audiences treat it as more homage or parody?
I've a lot of jokes for people who are casual fans as well as people who are hard-core fans. It's become quite refined in that way [over three years]. But the show has changed a great deal. Coming here [to New York], I don't even know how much I can take it one direction or the other without it becoming nothing but pure parody, and then it loses what the point of it was in the first place, which was the absurd idea of just one person taking something that's extremely high tech and boiling it down to nothing but a person trying to embody everything, and it’s an absurd thing to watch a person go for it, in a sense, and sweat, because you have to—you can't go small—you try to play every character, whether you do it well or not.In compressing six hours of screen time into one hour of live theater, what gets left out?
Oh man. More stuff gets left out than I can even get into. Sometimes entire story lines. A lot of characters get left out. You get people complaining that stuff's been left out, but—I don't know—you try editing it down. If people are that worried about it, they can make their own one-person trilogy. I don't really care.Do you recommend that audience members watch the films before seeing your show?
Hmmm … Yeah, it's a good thing if anyone has, you know, seven hours to spend doing it.Actually, it's less than six and a half hours.
Yes, it would be good to spend a bit of time reviewing it, or even at least talking it over, or even just listen to the soundtrack. You'd be amazed how much you can remember—little things, just from the music. When I wrote it, I wouldn't sit there and review the films. I just sat there and listened to the music. It's amazing how the music is that extra character in the film. It plays such a large role. If you've never seen it, I implore you, please watch it before you see my show, because you'd be absolutely lost.Have you heard from anyone who's seen your show but hasn't seen the movies?
Many people. It's usually been very positive, but people think sometimes I'm in need of medication, and that's understandable, because it's supposed to be an absurd show. This was, when I first did it, going to be a comedy sketch. It was never intended to be what it is. I wasn't even sure if people would be able to keep up. I guess I just underestimated the number of people that can keep up. Have you heard from any cast members from the movies who have seen the play?
There are people who have been in some smaller roles [but I've] never had Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill see it … They're pretty busy people, and I think in some ways they're just trying to move beyond that film that they made that long ago. I'm sure it’s a bit of a curse and a blessing mixed into one.You've already performed a one-man "Lord of the Rings" and you've said you're considering tackling the second Star Wars trilogy, but where do you go from here?
I am going to go back home [Victoria, British Columbia] for a couple of months. … I've mulled around the idea of a one-man Muppets—not an actual trilogy, but compiling together "Sesame Street" and the "The Muppets Show" and anything else that would be Muppet-esque and make a story line out of that. To me, it's about trying to find the stories that we already know and the characters that we already know and either make a new narrative out of it or discover some condensed narrative to it. If it's a good story, a timeless story, it becomes like a myth almost—not a myth like "Beowulf”—but a myth with some staying power, and that's what those bards used to do, they used to tell a story that everybody already knew, but they would tell the story by being all the characters and just sort of sit there and orate.Do you have an understudy for this show? Could you or your director have other people do this and take it on the road to other cities?
No. It's just me. If I die out, it dies out. I don't have any hopes to franchise this, It's just a thing I've been doing, and it's really been both scary and exciting to bring it here because you bring it out and you're under the purview of the largest audience in the world, and probably the largest concentration of critics. You're constantly in motion for the entire hour—leaping, falling, dueling. It looks exhausting. How do you do it?
Well, eventually, you learn the process of doing it. It's like running a marathon but at the same time reciting poetry. You just learn how to do it, and once you learn how to do it, you just repeat it.