Once again, Nature Theater of Oklahoma's bold exploration of the everyday catches the audience off guard, helping us to appreciate even the beauty of Rambo. What's mesmerizing here is the authentic memory play--the way the David Morell's book has stuck in solo performer Zachary Oberzan's head, now unspooling in a word-for-word recreation of his original recollection.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Nature Theater of Oklahoma is making a phenomenal habit out of how we take the world around us for granted. With Poetics: a ballet brut, they showed us the elegance of our everyday movements, upending our perspective of the theater itself to do so (the audience sat on the stage). With No Dice, they recontextualized ordinary phone conversations by doing them in "dinner theater" style, hamming and thereby hammering the actual words and rhythms into our consciousness.
Now, with Rambo Solo, Pavol Liska & Kelly Copper have seized upon company member Zachary Oberzan's obssession with Rambo (he made his own film Flooding with Love for the Kid), and in doing so, have recreated and refocused the idea of a "memory" play. Guided by audio cues and synchronized video footage of three "rehearsals" of this story (enacted within Oberzan's 220 sq. ft. apartment), every night is a recreation of Oberzan's original stream-of-consciousness remembering of reading David Morell's book, Rambo: First Blood. By emphasizing every awkward "um," every breathtaking pause (including the actor's bathroom break), and the naked honesty of Oberzan's self-correcting, the show not only avoids the Hollywood bullshit of the film, but manages to appropriate the theatrical bullshit so that while things are obviously staged and rehearsed, they are also honest and fresh.
Such an approach is important for the audience walking a mile--or in this case, sitting storybook style on a shag carpet--through Oberzan's memory. For all the twists of his recollection of plot, he's taken an even more interesting twist on the actual narrative, giving equal weight to John Rambo and his "nemesis," Sheriff Will Teasle. In one of the goofier and stagier bits, Oberzan pulls two audience members up on stage for the climactic finale between these two kindred souls, war veterans both, but he's able to sell this--and other bits, like the gunfire of M&Ms--by being open to the "pervasive love" that "floods" the novel. In fact, that's what distinguishes Rambo Solo: it's so obviously a passion project, performed so deadpan that it has to be serious, despite the constant awkward Office-like comedy.
Though there's no comma in the title, there's equal weight given to the "solo" part of the show, primarily in the way it evokes the imagination. Though the on-stage Oberzan mostly limits himself to a narrow, raised walkway, his three video-shadows pace around his apartment. His shower rod shows the sort of torturous crucifixion Rambo underwent in Vietnam; his bathtub becomes a riverbed (a blanket represents its mud). He hangs from his lofted bed as if he's on the cliff; he splashes water from the sink as if he's caught in a flashflood. When he cooks an owl, he's really just warming up leftovers in the microwave. On the one hand, these effects remind us of how different we all are, but on the other, they also show a weird sort of everyday empathy, and once again, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma has boldly caught us taking things for granted.
Rambo Solo (85 min, no intermission)
Soho Rep (46 Walker Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $25 (through 4/12) and $35 (through 4/19)
Performances (through 4/19): Wed., Thurs., Sat., Sun. @ 7:30
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.