The battle for Middle Earth rages once again as Charles Ross ventures from the Shire to the fire and back again in his epic solo show "One Man Lord of the Rings."
Best known for his phenomenally successful one-man "Star Wars" show, which was a hit at San Jose Rep last summer, the self-deprecating Canadian actor has earned his place in the pantheon of kitsch for his dweeby brand of short-attention-span theater. If you have box seats at Comic-Con, this is a must-see.
It's also a treat for those who prize low-tech cheekiness. The inexhaustible actor races through the J.R.R. Tolkien canon using no costumes or special effects or props. He captures the sweeping adventure of the movie trilogy (we're talking 12 hours!) into a 70-minute romp through the sheer force of his nerdiness, which is powerful indeed.
Watching the affable actor bop from hobbits to elves is a bit like watching an overcaffeinated toddler re-enact his favorite cartoon. You don't get all of the details, but you get the gist, and it's all terribly endearing. Here and there, he adds a helpful note, such as Denethor, son of Ecthelion, is Boromir and Faramir's father (ah!) or "Change the DVD, now" (tee-hee!).
While this tour-de-farce lacks some of the wit of his earlier piece, which had a wonderfully high cheese factor, there's no denying Ross' charisma and his athleticism. He hurls himself at the stage, transforming from the last march of the giant tree creatures (Ents) to the
Drenched in sweat, clad in his usual jumpsuit, the performer gives his all for his craft. He re-creates the death of that brave soldier Boromir with an unstinting eye for detail, tone and pace. His rendition of the Orcs, the bloodthirsty, monstrous minions of the evil lord Sauron, is flat-out creepy. No CGI-effect could be quite as chilling.
His Gollum, a slithering little toad, sighing and sniping about his "precious," is a thing of beauty if you're a massive dork (go on, admit it), and the in-jokes (while too few) are gems. The swipe at director Peter Jackson, who cut the Tom Bombadil character in favor of more Liv Tyler time, is particularly juicy. The epilogue about chatting up Ian McKellen is quite charming.
The Google gags? Not so much.
The one caveat is that you really have to know the story arc here, from Ents to Orcs, or the magic of the show will be lost on you. Sometimes this reviewer couldn't tell the Ringwraiths (bad guys) from the giant eagles (good guys). Also, there were a few moments when Gandalf sounded suspiciously like Yoda, and the Darth Vader breathing effect popped up apropos of nothing.
Lest those sound like quibbles, rest assured that most of the audience clearly held Ph.D.s in hobbit studies. From tweens to senior citizens, this is the real fellowship of the ring.
Many in the opening night audience at San Jose Rep happily echoed the most famous lines ("You Shall Not Pass!" etc.) along with Ross. Although, for the record, no one seemed to come in costume as they did with the "Star Wars" homage.
A sense of cheekiness is also mandatory, lest the devout be offended by wisecracks about actors, their hair and their accents. Legolas is a bit of a simp, Arwen is all hair and Galadriel is all vamp. Some of the characters need more instant definition, like the Han Solo crotch grab of yore, or you can get a tad confused.
In one of the snarkiest moments, and by far the best line in the show, a very dewy-eyed Samwise beseeches his heroic friend: "Mr. Frodo, are we gay?"
Ross also gooses the comedy with random asides to everything from "Braveheart" to Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire," natch). These bits of pop culture flotsam and jetsam tickle the funny bone during some clumsy segues and static patches. Surely Ross will fine-tune the adventure as he warps through the cosmos.
Indeed, one can't help wondering where he goes from here. One Man "Star Trek"? One Man "Game of Thrones"? Maybe the geek shall inherit the Earth after all.
'One Man Lord of the Rings'
Performed by Charles Ross
Through: July 29
Where: San Jose Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: $29-$74, 408-367-7255, www.sjrep.com