Sitting Front Row Stage Right
It’s the seat furthest left in the front row. Right next to the pillar. That one.
Sitting the in front row House Left makes for some remarkable proximity. It’s one thing to see an actor playing multiple roles as the only actor in a show. It’s another thing entirely to see and actor playing multiple roles as the only actor in a show in a studio theatre space. Sitting the front row House Left for Theatre Gigante’s I am My Own Wife takes one-person small stage studio theatre experience to a whole other level.
Michael Stebbins flits through multiple characters in a very delicate story and you’re right there for some really vulnerable moments between actor and character...closer than most people get in casual conversation. It’s not for everybody, but the intensity of human connection from that front row all the way on the left...amazing. Stebbins plays a character known to Mahlsdorf who has been put incarcerated. Some of that character’s most intimate moments alone happen quite close to the front row stage right. Sit in that seat in that moment and lighting designer Leroy Stoner is shooting some incredibly harsh light directly at you, but it amplifies the intensity of the imprisonment. It’s blindingly overwhelming, causing heavy shadows . The contours of human emotion highlight Stebbins’ face as all around is black and shades of shadow in Stoner’s stage lights. It’s one actor, one character light, shadow and a tragic story. It’s a truly breathtaking moment. And then things fade-in and the story continues.
Keeping All of the Characters Distinct
I am My Own Wife has one actor playing something like four primary roles with a host of supporting characters. It’s just one guy up there telling a story involving a man who lived through two oppressive regimes in one of the most tumultuous times in a nation’s history that is framed through a historian’s lens as a central protagonist tries to learn about the life of a truly remarkable woman. So there’s a lot going on here. And it’s just one guy. It’s a challenge for any actor, particularly in drama. It’s a bit easier in comedy.
Comedy can be amplified with one actor playing multiple characters. It’s inherently funny to watch one actor play multiple different personas. It’s a comic device that does wonders for quick change shows like Dracula vs. the Nazis or The Mystery of Irma Vep. There’s a real challenge to doing it in drama in a way that doesn’t detract from the drama. Stebbins manages this by holding on to the inheent humanity of the characters. There’s a lot of variation in personality between the characters, but Stebbins does a really good job of holding on to the central mood of each scene even when playing multiple characters. It’s a very delicate balance and Stebbins manages it quite well.
Theatre Gigante’s production of I Am My Own Wife runs through Oct. 7 at Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl. For ticket reservations and more, visit Theatre Gigante online. My comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of The Shepherd-Express.