In 1949, James Agee wrote an apocalyptic screenplay in which Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp was the sole survivor of the ultimate nuclear bomb explosion, the one that destroyed all human life but this one character. Chaplin passed it over, thinking that no one was interested in The Tramp anymore.
It is prudent to recall that in that year, the use of the atomic bomb was only four years gone by and its big brother, the thermonuclear H-bomb was still being planned. Irrespective of how anyone thinks it occurred, there has been no military use of these weapons since, although they have been the not-so-veiled threat behind much so-called diplomatic interaction. Efforts to keep them out of the hands of anyone other than the four countries that originally held them have proven impossible, and today nine countries are known to be able to create end-of-the-world scenarios with such weaponry.
The currency of The Tramp’s New World, a one-man show created and performed by Rob Jansen and now playing at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, may be generated by the recent discussions of the deal with Iran, who seems to be close to joining this exclusive clan. The problem of nuclear weapons just keeps coming down to their existence, and it seems obvious that nothing is going to make them go away. This was true in 1949, and it remains true today.
Rob Jansen has acquired Agee’s script, and adapted it into a one-man show — not including the audience participation that he requires, nor the actors in the film strips used — in which he plays The Tramp and also trades off as Agee being narrator. He has performed it in other venues in Washington, DC, and Cincinnati, OH, offering a glimpse into what such a film might have looked like.
Jansen’s talent is outstanding, his rendition of The Tramp is completely personalized, not exact, but nonetheless it translated as Chaplin’s Tramp successfully. As Agee, he was sending an anti-bomb message, which includes the need for living companionship. The performance is stunning and engrossing. The presentation is undeniably provocative. You will be thinking about it the next day and, perhaps, even longer.
Director Joseph Megel tucked the production neatly into the space at Manbites Dog, surrounding much of the playing area with audience and giving Jansen ready access to them which he used with élan, voicelessly encouraging several observers to join him on stage and participate.
Megel has an excellent team of designers. Derrick Ivey. Andrew Parks, Joseph Amodei, and Marissa Erickson brought together an amazing assortment of unusual objects, visual techniques, sounds, lightings, and atmospheres for Jansen to work with.
Like Chaplin himself, this show exists in many levels; and although the topic itself is heavy almost beyond endurance, the light-heartedness of Charlie Chaplin’s eternal Little Tramp shines from within this production.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article48034330.html; and Dec. 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-tramps-new-world/Event?oid=4918376.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE TRAMP’S NEW WORLD, a one-man show created and performed by Rob Jansen at 8:15 p.m. Dec. 5, 2 p.m. Dec. 6, 8:15 p.m. Dec. 10-12, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 (Theater Insider Night), and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 16-19 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $5 for students with ID, a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel, and all seats are $12 on Theater Insider Night, Dec. 13th.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy/the-tramps-new-world.
2015-16 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2015-16-season/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
Rob Jansen (Washington, DC playwright and performer): https://www.facebook.com/rob.jansen.73 (Facebook page) and https://twitter.com/robjansen19 (Twitter page).
Joseph Megel (Pittsboro, NC director): http://comm.unc.edu/faculty-and-staff/faculty/joseph-megel/ (UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication bio), and https://www.facebook.com/joseph.megel (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.