Monday, June 13, 2022

One-Man, One-Woman ... Plays

         People may not guess that I actually enjoy live theater - not musicals - theater. I mean, there are a handful of musicals that I have enjoyed, but I generally have a hard and fast rule against musicals. But dramas and comedies, I enjoy. While we were working, it was kind of difficult to get up and get going to see a play. After a day of teaching, the prospect of driving into the city traffic and parking situation was not always an appealing one, but, now, we have the time, and there are several great theater companies and venues for us to choose from, and they are roaring back from pandemic shutdowns. We've seen several very good plays in the past several months, and three have been one-person biographical shows about legends. We recommend seeing all of them if they are performed near you.

    The first was I Love to Eat, written by James Still, the life of cooking icon James Beard. Foodies all know the name from the extremely prestigious awards given to chefs, restaurants, and cookbooks annually. A James Beard Award is the pinnacle of culinary success, perhaps slightly eclipsed by Michelin stars - perhaps. In reality, James Beard was a master cook, cookbook author, and food critic. He starred in one of the very first cooking shows on television. He championed good food done well, and he enjoyed "rustic" food as much as gourmet food. The play is hilarious, and we were fortunate to see Matt McGee playing the role; he is apparently a bit of theatrical icon himself in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area, and he was fantastic. While there was much humor throughout the play, there is a bit of tragedy as well. James Beard was a gay man in the public eye in the 1950s and 1960s, so he had to deal with keeping closeted or dealing with stigma that came attached to that identity at the time. As portrayed on stage, he also had to deal with issues of depression and loneliness that clung to him throughout his life, no matter how famous he became. 

    Tragedy apparently makes for great one-person shows, as the other two plays' subjects are two of the most tragic figures in the history of the 20th century. Their subjects are legendary icons who contributed so much to society, but society - specifically government authorities, with a little assist from addictions - destroyed them, leaving us to wonder what more could they have done in their lives and careers?  Lady Day At Emerson's Bar & Grill, written by Lanie Robertson, is a night in the life of singer Billie Holliday, performed in our case by the extremely talented Karole Foreman.  Technically, there is a second character on stage, Billie's pianist and music director, but it is all about Billie. In between the dozen or so songs sung during the play, Billie tells the nightclub audience all of the tragedies of her life, and that's a lot. 

    Finally, there's "I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce" , written by and starring Ronnie Marmo as the comedian and social commentator who spent much of his career being arrested for obscenity and standing up for freedom of speech. With all of the current controversies surrounding stand-up comedy today, like the fear of cancel culture, the existence of trigger warnings,  and even the fear of physical attack, Lenny Bruce's life and career are so relevant today, 56 years after his tragic death by overdose. Marmo, as Lenny, takes the audience through his life and the demons that bring his end. It is an incredibly tragic tale, with some humor and keen insight along the way.