Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rambo Solo


Conceived and Directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper. With Zachary Oberzan. (CLOSED)

Does the idea of someone talking about why he loves the book version of Rambo for 90 minutes thrill you or give you the howling fantods? In downtown darling Nature Theater of Oklahoma's new show, one man stands onstage discussing his love of Rambo while a triptych of videos shows him reenacting the book in his apartment. The critics are split on the show, with Variety and Time Out loving Rambo Solo and both finding surprising depths amidst the laughs, while The New York Times, Backstage, New Yorker and the Post find themselves increasingly infuriated at it.

Variety A
(Marilyn Stasio) Nature Theater of Oklahoma, which has forged a sharp, witty and utterly distinctive performance style from elements charitably called garbage, has hit the mother lode in Rambo Solo. Conceived and made flesh by company founders Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, the idiosyncratic one-man piece is performed with hilarious conviction by Zachary Oberzan, whose maniacally funny (and quite touching) obsession with the story of "Rambo: First Blood" inspired the show. A snug fit at SoHo Rep, which collects all kinds of artistic oddities, the lunatic creation is enhanced by a meticulously filmed chronicle of Oberzan's Odyssean efforts to explain himself.

Time Out NY A
(Helen Shaw) As with their matchless No Dice, Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska have coaxed something profound and delightful out of an extemporaneous conversation—this time, company actor Zachary Oberzan's meticulous retelling of David Morrell's novel First Blood... The show winds up being a portrait of a lot of things besides the titular Green Beret, including the longueurs of an actor's life ("I…feel…listless and lethargic and useless and…fat"), the thrills of artistic mimicry and the formation of male identity.

OfOff Online A-
(Doug Strassler) Oberzan... completely immerses himself as the narrator with enough octane to fuel this avant garde monologue piece. He makes the speaker a three-dimensional man, odd enough to be hopelessly devoted to a dismissed pulp novel yet passionate enough to think that perhaps the work is worth re-examining. He makes his persona’s boneheadedness oddly lovable, and his exuberance absolutely contagious. After a while, the speaker’s gruff rhythms make the dialogue sound like its own kind of poetry.

Gothamist B+
(John Del Signore) At times, Oberzan reminds one of the excitable stoned geek whose rambling you indulge because he keeps passing around the primo herb. But there aren't any drugs proffered here; Oberzan pulls it off on the strength of his quirky charm and guileless passion for a beloved book, which he keeps onstage in a plastic bag. In fact, he's so persuasive that we're searching for a copy of our own, as soon as we finish working on our own magnum opus: Die Hard Solo. (For that, you'll definitely need drugs.)

Village Voice B+
(Alexis Soloski) Poignant and jocular...explores obsession, masculinity, and our reluctance to recognize how little we resemble our heroes. Oberzan admits that by the time he acquires the money to make a version of First Blood more faithful to the novel, he'll be too old to play its lead...But in a triumphant reversal, Oberzan discards such considerations and decides to make the film—which he has subsequently released—in which he plays all the roles and uses his tiny apartment for all the settings

TheaterMania B+
(Dan Bacalzo) Oberzan is an engaging and likable performer, and he provides an energetic retelling of the story of John Rambo, complete with mock fight sequences. Although the content and pacing of the actor's text is clearly set, he'll occasionally break into a smile or non-verbally acknowledge how people are responding to certain segments of the show. There's even a bit of audience participation. As with No Dice -- which revealed the poetry within the most banal, everyday conversations -- Rambo Solo walks a fine line between parody and sincerity. While the show contains plenty of humor, Oberzan presents an intelligent and insightful case, and you just may leave the theater agreeing that there really is far more to the story of First Blood than you ever thought possible.

(Dan Kois) The effect can be mesmerizing, and viewers will come away reminded of the power of even the cheapest myths. And though Oberzan and Nature Theater of Oklahoma—the avant-garde troupe that created this oddball piece—never quite elevate Rambo Solo past the level of accomplished stunt, it’s still a weird and touching testament to the potency of pop culture and the poetry of incoherence, an entertaining high-low crash that suggests a Wooster Group adaptation of the talk-backs on website Ain’t It Cool News.

That Sounds Cool B
(Aaron Riccio) 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.

American Theater Web B
(Andy Propst) It's a charming conceit that, thanks to Oberzan's winning performance, serves up more than its fair share of chuckles and smiles, even if one's never encountered the novel or Sylvester Stallone's interpretation of it, and the show's video finale, best left as a surprise, takes the piece to a point of wonderful hilarity.

CurtainUp B
(Jenny Sandman) The show is a literal blow-by-blow retelling of the story, complete with many vacant pauses——an "uh, " "um" or "you know" can turn into a hilarious moment, as you can almost see Oberzan's fanatic fan brain whirring along at high speed, often getting ahead of his tongue. Only a true fanatic would find value in telling us the entire story of Rambo, and his fan love is evident and abundant. Overall, it's whimsical, with several moments of unrestrained laughter. Things do drag a bit between the laugh-out-loud sections.

NYTimes C+
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. Oberzan’s sweetly vacant persona and his doofusy earnestness are often very funny, as are his makeshift attempts to evoke the book’s violent battles with just a few wild kicks and pinwheeling arm movements. But at half the running time the show would probably be twice as enjoyable. The dumb, numbing thoroughness of the enterprise is intentional, but eventually it becomes less amusing than exasperating. A passion enacted is not necessarily a passion communicated, and at no point do we really move beyond the mania to glimpse the human being possessed by it. Although you can extrapolate from the show a portrait of a mind withdrawing into a strictly circumscribed fantasy world to banish the pain or frustration of the real one, Rambo Nut is more conceit than character.

Backstage F+
(Mark Peikert) As talented as he is, the whole evening feels like 90 minutes spent cornered at a party with the world's most colossal bore, the kind of blithe monologuist who has no sense of when his audience has had enough. Or perhaps the evening more readily calls to mind an interminable elementary-school speaker, as the audience sits on the carpeted floor looking up at Oberzan as if it's story time (I used my miniscule pull as a critic to snag a chair).

NYPost F
(Frank Scheck) Have you ever had a friend who's just seen a new movie proceed to bore you with every single detail of the plot? That's how it feels watching Rambo Solo, in which Zachary Oberzan spends 90-plus minutes relating the story of First Blood, both the novel and its film adaptation, in excruciating detail.

New Yorker F
(Hilton Als) Anger mounts at the sheer hubris of this enterprise. It may be a commentary on the nature of performance, but it is itself an utterly objectionable one, reflective only of a certain kind of chic-inflected privileged-white-boy solipsism. Watching “Rambo Solo,” you learn less than nothing about absurdist theatre, but, as you leave the show, you may feel absurd for having sat through it.

V A 13; TONY A 13; OOO A- 12; TM B+ 11; GOTH B+ 11; VV B+ 11; ATW B 10; NYMAG B 10; TSC B 10; CU B 10; NYT C+ 8; BS F+ 2; NYP F 1; TNY F 1;. TOTAL: 101/11= 9.18 (B-)

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