Californian Lives, King’s Head Theatre
Pros: Small venue with an intimate setting. Good performances from John Vernon and Carolyn Lyster.
Cons: Three monologues one after the other can be a bit exhausting, and the audience’s attention does wane slightly.
Our Verdict: The stories reflect emotions and events that occur in everyday life and which resonate with the audience, however the monologue aspect was difficult to swallow.
One-man shows are notoriously difficult for the actor; having no other actors to play off means they have the tough task of engaging an audience all alone. Three disconnected monologues therefore seems like theatrical suicide! The stories are told from the perspective of three different members of Californian society – a young businessman, a middle-aged gay man and an older woman.
The first monologue, Los Feliz, is performed by Robin Holden in the role of a young businessman who tells the story of his latest quest for love. After divorcing his wife, the character – who we only know as ‘Man in Diner’ – meets Melanie, a young woman who instantly has him infatuated. Believing he has found the ideal woman he eventually gathers up the courage to ask her out on a date where he discovers that Melanie has hired a private detective to check up on him. The man then declares that all women are liars who distrust men with no justifiable reasons for doing so. Holden’s portrayal of a chauvinistic male instantly got my back up, and therefore I was unable to enjoy much of the performance. In addition, he remained in his seat at the back of the set for the majority of the play, and consequently it became very static, and didn’t do much to draw me in.
The second story, Ben and Joe’s, tells the story of a middle-aged man who spends most of his time at a gay bar with people he considers to be his family. John Vernon’s friendly and inviting attitude draws the audience in as he tells us about each of the characters who frequent the bar, and his performance is the most convincing of the three. The subject of racism and the differences between the younger and older generations form the basis of his tale after a young black man is accused of stealing from one of the bar’s regulars. The ‘family’ that exists in the bar is torn apart as each person voices their opinions of guilt and innocence. Vernon’s ability to change his accent to different American dialects also adds depth to this more humourous performance.
The final play, Sunset, is an older woman’s monologue to her husband as she describes the journey of their lives together using the metaphor of a rollercoaster. I initially found it hard to engage with her as she described the bitterness and resentment she felt towards her children whom she saw as stripping away her freedom piece by piece. Another metaphor frequently used is that of a sunset which is not only used to represent her fading freedom as she embarks on a life with children, but also her life with her husband as they continue to age. The lighting on stage is used to depict the fading light until only one spotlight remains focused on Carolyn Lyster. It is an extremely emotional performance and even had a woman sat behind me sobbing in her seat. Having recently experienced the death of someone close to me, I was moved by Lyster’s commendable performance. That being said, the constant references to rollercoasters and her poor American accent became a distraction.
The dubious accents leave much to be desired and I did leave the theatre feeling slightly drained, though I am still undecided whether this was from the emotional upheaval of Lyster’s performance or from sitting through three individual monologues over two hours! This production is worth seeing for Vernon’s performance; with some work on the accents and the ability to capture the audience’s attention the other two plays would be much more enjoyable.
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Californian Lives runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 26th May 2013.
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