Dear Soho Rep, your 99-cent Sundays are the best thing ever.
I probably wouldn't have gotten to see Rambo Solo, the new offering from the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, without 99-cent Sundays. I managed to remember when tickets went on sale, and snagged my pair before they were gone (an hour later). I saw NTOK's No Dice last year, and rather liked it. Very weird, "experimental," but in the wise words of young Gareth Campesinos!, "I'm into some very avant shit," so.
Rambo Solo is Zack (seriously, Zach/Zack is maybe the name spelling that baffles me most in the world) Oberzan's one-man exploration of and love letter to First Blood, the novel on which Rambo, I think, was based. (When I'm planning on seeing a show I live in a little soundproof box that admits no reviews or summaries, so apologies if everyone in the world already knows this.) Here's the description from Soho Rep's website:
Built upon actor Zachary Oberzan's deep-seated obsession with the story of Rambo: First Blood, the performance charts Zack's endeavor to recount the entire plot in all its sweaty, athletic detail. Set in the dark heart of Zack's tiny New York studio apartment, Rambo Solo follows one man's private passion to its limits.Sure, that sounds about right. Except it seemed less about "one man's private passion" and more about storytelling, and also it seemed less About Something and more just enjoyable. Enjoyable with some good little avant layers of theatricality and cleverness. And yes, okay, About Things. (Saying it's set in Zack's studio is, while I guess sort of true, also totally false, as it very much takes place in the theatre at Soho Rep.) The first 20 or so minutes of discovering the world of the play and the aspects of the performance were probably the best, engrossing and interesting and funny, but even after the excitement of that discovering was mellowed out, it was still mostly always great.
In case you're living in a spoiler-free soundproof booth about this show, which I totally respect, you may want to skip the next bit. But if you've seen the show, aren't seeing the show, or are not this sort (my sort) of crazy, read on. No major plot points are given away, but it's something I'm glad I didn't know going into the show. Although something I wish I had known? That the seating is pillows on a (very plush) carpet. If I'd known that, I would have worn jeans that do a less dramatic sliding-down-my-backside when I sit. (I decided, btw, that if I were to get a tramp stamp, it would be of Voyager II. But maybe I can find a place for this.) But okay, just skip the next few paragraphs if you want to keep your theatre-going totally pure, down to the little picture of hitchhiking John Rambo. I will even make the font a little smaller to facilitate your journey.
Before the show, sitting in the front row (on the front row of pillows), my friend and I were talking about audience participation. Joking about it, really. She said she'd make sure to avoid eye contact, and I was like, No, some people go for the eye contact-avoiders. It's like cats. (They do that, too, always go for the people who hate cats.) Okay, so, ha, very funny, conversation forgotten, and we get into the show, and we're front row for a very intimately-set solo-show - sometimes Zack's sitting at the edge of the little stage, right in front of us, and as I'm, y'know, watching him, there's eye contact, but I think nothing of it, beyond, like, wondering if we'll hyphenate our last names, and one time, on the other side of the audience, he even sits down on the carpet, but whatever. And so towards the end, when he's down right in front of me and extends his hand, it doesn't really strike me as anything, and then suddenly he's taken my hand and is standing me up, and I'm on stage.
It's not even like in Thom Pain, when I thought there was impending audience participation, and I had that awful yearning in my chest, a literal physical thing in my chest. This was just watching the show and then being pulled on stage.
First thought: I hope my pants are not slipped down my back enough to be showing my underwear. Second thought... Well, there aren't thoughts so much, not beyond Don't be the awful audience participator, Don't be the awful audience participator, and then also just trying to go along with what's happening as well as possible. It's not quite the actor's nightmare thing, because I know I'm not supposed to know what's happening, but it's like a super-intense improv pop quiz - go along with it, say yes, sort of psychically get the flow of what he's doing, what he's indicating for me to do without actually, like, saying anything to me.
When I saw Blue Man Group (shut up, we got comps), there was an audience girl brought up on stage who just would. not. cooperate. She refused to eat a twinkie in a way that kind of ruins a gag. I did not want to be that girl.
I also didn't want to be the person who's so self-conscious (and audience-conscious) that they're distracting and annoying. And other than my initial giggling fit, I think I did okay. (The other audience member who was pulled up for this segment was, luckily, good and game. And having someone else made it less scary. Less pressure.) I even got back into watching the show, albeit from onstage, which was cool, that I could get my focus reabsorbed that way. Overall: a disorienting and pretty cool experience. The whole thing definitely colored my experience of the play - spiced it up for sure - and maybe did or didn't teach me some lessons about brazen eye contact.
(Speaking of eye contact, a male friend once told me that you can tell when a guy is trying not to look at a girl's boobs because it's like, intense eye contact, a sort of don'tlookatherboobs, don'tlookatherboobs thing. And I thought of that insight when, towards the end of my on-stage stint, Zack Oberzan stripped to his underwear and I was suddenly fascinated by what was on the video screen behind me.)
Time Out NY review for the show begins with, "Do not wear tight pants to Rambo Solo; (1) seating is on the ground, so you should dress with flexibility in mind..." So maybe the spoiler-free zone has its downsides. Dude who was sitting behind me, I'm sorry. Or you're welcome.
Rambo Solo extended to... um... April 19th. Tickets for the extension are $35. You can get those and info here.