Seeing Lennon and Dickinson in 2014

It is difficult to get me to a one-person show or anything that is essentially a one-person show. That is unless there is a Tony contender in it. Even then, I sort of dread them (with the possible exception of Lady Day). So it's odd that at the height of the fall theater season I've seen two.

Lennon: Through a Glass Onion is currently onstage at the Union Square Theater after having played in many other countries. It is not really a one-person show, John R. Waters is accompanied onstage by Stewart D'Arrietta, who has an occasional line and adds some harmonies in addition to his piano playing. However it is close to a one-person show. In the piece, Waters tells John Lennon's story through his own words and music. I personally thought this might be terribly boring, but it's not. One of the things that makes it engaging is Anthony Barrett's lighting. You don't hear tons about lighting designers. Often lighting isn't the real star of the show, but in this case it might be (not to take anything away from Waters' fine performance). Barrett manages to portray emotions through lighting. We're talking about a show with a big stage and no set. Barrett receives the credit for using lighting to make it seem like a fully realized production.

I also saw The Belle of Amherst, currently playing at the Westside Theatre Upstairs with Joely Richardson. The Belle of Amherst doesn't have dramatic lighting to help it -- it has to rely on its star. Richardson does something very impressive: memorize a tremendous amount of dialogue, most of which is not conversational in tone. Comparisons to Julie Harris were inevitable, because Harris' performance is captured onscreen. However I think people who are seeing Richardson on a blank slate will find her performance impressive. Those who are comparing her to Harris might be a little disappointed, but I think that disappointment may be because Richardson is doing something different, so she doesn't match with the image we have in our head. That said, she is great as Emily Dickinson. She is playing completely against type but gives a fully credible performance, one that made me buy into the story and the setting. The show itself is not for everyone, but I recommended it to some of my more literary-minded friends.

I bet these shows don't have much of an overlapping audience, but I'm happy I saw them both.