Two characters on a stage

This evening I attended a one woman show. And it was really good.

The writer / performer took us all on a personal journey. It was based on her life, but that life was then shaped into good theater. The driving structure was the mutual fascination between her adult and teenage selves — two characters who are very different, and yet literally the same.

The experience led me to pondering the nature of one-person theater. It’s not like traditional theater, in which so much happens in the empty space between two or more actors appearing before us on stage.

In a one person show, that empty space — the place where all of the important questions are dangled — needs to be implied, rather than shown outright. Which makes it an extremely different art form.

I have seen one person shows that failed terribly. And I suspect that was because we were presented with only a single persona onstage. So there was no meaningful conflict to be worked through.

Even if only a single person is standing before you, there needs to be a dialog between two or more points of view. A clash of viewpoints is the food by which drama is nourished.

Tonight’s performance was clever in that the two characters (the teenage and adult versions of the playwright) had an inherently interesting and complex relationship. And we in the audience wanted to know about that relationship.

Even in a one-person show, the fundamental principle of good theater holds true: It all comes down to two characters on a stage.

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