Who Am I This Time? Two stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Directed by Scott Fielding.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"She came with the new billing machine..."
Glenn Williamson as himself
Actor Glenn Williamson, dressed in a tie that hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s, acts out a story by author Kurt Vonnegut about an aging music teacher who tries to take under his wing an abandoned teenager whose dark and dangerous mien threatens to destroy the high school in the town of Lincoln. The story, "The Kid Nobody Could Handle" is one of two from the 1961 Vonnegut collection "Welcome to the Monkey House."
Other than the omnipotent narrator, the story only has three characters: George Helmholtz, the music teacher, Bert Quinn, the restaurant owner, and Jim Donnini, the 15 year old destructive kid of the title. Williamson plays all four roles, has conversations with himself, or I should say among his characters, and physically assumes the identities of each one so that we always know, by voice and posture and facial expression, just who is speaking.
He does this brilliantly. There is never a moment of confusion in this or the second piece in which he takes on five characters and then two more as played by two of the actual characters of the story. Now that's layering: one actor playing two people acting two other characters (four actually but not for long).
Walking the Dog Theater in Hudson, New York is presenting this double bill of one-man shows with the same man in both at Space 360 through April 3. For one man, this is some packed and crowded show and most definitely worth the modest price of admission.
Williamson has made a career out of the one-man show according to his bio in the program. Sadly he is the kind of actor who ought to spend more time interacting with other actors on the stage. There is seemingly nothing he cannot play, and to have him in just one part for a while as another person brings in a persona and plays opposite him would be a treat. For now we must be content with him playing everyone.
In the second half, the story's name is the name of this show, he takes us to Vonnegut's small town of North Crawford where a storm-window salesman has been selected to direct the community theater edition of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." He has already selected his Stanley Kowalski, a meek and mild-mannered clerk named Harry Nash. For his auditions he pushes forward a newcomer to the town, a woman who has been brought in by the local branch of the telephone company to apologize for, and explain the rudiments of, the new billing machine which seems to make more mistakes than are possible.
The only problem is the girl, Helene Shaw, is unable to act because she is unable to feel many emotions (a difficult childhood is the explanation - a family always on the move). How she and Harry Nash interact in rehearsals and on stage, however, is nothing short of revelatory. Williamson gives us every aspect of the emotional switches in these characters, playing Stanley and Stella in their most violent moments together. He is right on and totally hilarious.
Laughter doesn't come easily at the tiny space at Space 360. Light spills in the audience highlight the viewers as often, if not moreso, than the actor and audiences are notoriously fearful of reacting in full light. Letting go is to be encouraged when viewing this evening's entertainment. The actor needs to hear it and feel it. We need to let it out. When you go, ignore the environment and just enjoy yourself as Glenn Williamson gives you every opportunity to do so.
A simple, honest and open production with little costuming, simple props and no special effects except those brought into the proceedings by the actor are the trappings of this presentation. However the stage area is peopled with an assortment of characters and situations abound. Walking the Dog has another hit on their hands and all they need now is you to make the foray into March a march ahead...especially with John Philip Sousa's trumpet set out for you to enjoy in all its brassy beauty.
Who Am I This Time? plays at Space 360 for Walking the Dog Theater through Sunday, April 3. For tickets or information call the theater company at 518-610-0909 or go to their website at www.wtdtheater.org.