A single spotlight beamed upon a man in a dark jumpsuit and a pair of grey toe shoes. His surroundings, black; his stage, the floor. His mission: to embark upon a solo quest of heroic proportions, from Hobbiton to Mordor, a dozen or more characters to impersonate along the way, hoards of imaginary Orcs to fend off, a nearly 12-hour film series (or, you know, a thousand-plus-page book trilogy) to be performed in just over an hour. This would be his third of five solo comedic performances of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy—the extended editions, mind you—in one weekend. The ambition alone is impressive; the word epic, an understatement.
Charles Ross—the man in the jumpsuit—wasted no time on introductions. He was in character immediately, enthusiastically dashing and rolling about the floor of the GE Theatre, its black curtains draping the walls below a single row of minimal lighting. Ross switched from Bilbo Baggins to Frodo to Aragorn with ease, signaled with nothing more than a change in stance and tone. When playing Legolas, Ross stroked his imaginary hair; when he was Gandalf, an imaginary staff propped his weight. His Gollum impression was spot-on, and a reddening of the lights indicated the presence of Sauron’s wandering eye.
The show was not for the slow of mind. A change in scene was invoked with the swish of a hand or a clever breaking of the fourth wall. Quick references were peppered pell-mell and his jokes were wide-spanning. They were intended for both those who knew only the most basic of the movies’ motifs (like his crass poking at the suggested homosexual relationship between Frodo and Sam), and for those who knew of the much deeper contextual themes, like his nod to The Silmarillion, which flew over the heads of most but elicited a flutter of feverous laughter from the few who’d studied the books or watched the films on repeat.
A one-man show means cutting the fat, ad-libbing here or there, taking creative liberties and, of course, portraying every fight scene with gestures and vocal sound effects alone. The latter of these were, well, effective, to use the term, if not at times overwhelming. In perhaps his most intrusive oversight, Ross tended to spend more time than necessary on action scenes, sacrificing the more nuanced plot points for dramatic flair and heavy breathing. The performance would have felt more complete if certain female characters were portrayed at all, though it’s hard to nitpick at someone who intentionally stretches himself between half a dozen characters at a time, per scene.
Ultimately, the performance took an hour and a half, with at least 25 solid minutes given to each book in the trilogy and a few minutes in between so Ross could catch his breath and a few gulps of water. During these brief intermissions he broke character(s) to interact with the audience, introducing himself only after the first full act and polling the audience about their LOTR viewing history. (“How many of you have watched all three of the extended versions in one sitting?”)
Splaying his exhausted self upon the floor after the performance, Ross took roughly 20 charming minutes to chat with the audience about his experience as a one-man performer, the licensing issues he faced in doing this show and his other success, One Man Star Wars Trilogy—both of which he’s been touring for more than 10 years—and that one time he had a beer with (and rightfully geeked out over) Sir Ian McKellen, who shared with him his secret to securing an Oscar nomination (hint: it had to do with a tennis ball on a string).
In a moment of spontaneous brilliance—and perhaps the highlight of the night—Ross noticed an audience member scurrying off to the bathroom not minutes after he started his third act. “Wanna play a trick?” he asked the audience. “When that guy comes back in, even if I’m in the middle of a scene, I want you to start clapping as if I just finished. He’ll think he missed everything.” Convincing his stage manager/light-and-sound technician to go along with the idea, Ross assured everyone that he’d politely take a bow while the end-of-show music was cued up, and then promptly went back to his regular performance, keeping a sidelong eye on the door all the while. Several minutes later, Ross did not disappoint when the baffled man re-entered, waving and basking as the audience cheered and offered a premature standing ovation—which was replicated later in earnest.