Octaviar Productions' intense serio-comedy Zero, explores the lives of six different men, all of whom are in their early thirties but can't seem to get past their high school days. All are connected by their failures and successes, both real and perceived, and the women that they let slip through their fingers. The majority of them are continually trying to find out where they went wrong, through the bottom of a beer bottle or notches on their bedposts, as we follow them through their night-life soul-searching at the nearby pub. The main difference between this production and others out there that go over the familiar territory of what it means to become an "adult" and yet not be at a point in life we can be proud of, is that all the characters are played by one man, Danny O'Connor, and most are played all at the same time.
I'm delighted to say that he pulled it off - and then some. I saw six different people up there having conversations and performing monologues, and I bought it - hook, line, and sinker.
The art of doing a one-man/woman-show is a tricky one; the artist has to maintain control of the stage and make it his home. Bring the audience into his or her world and keep them interested in the tale without the addition of other actors. Doing a show with just one character going through a whirlwind of a life story is difficult enough; creating several people, four of whom are often on stage together at the same time in a crowded bar, is a different thing altogether. And O'Connor does it all simply through physicality. There aren't drastic costume changes or anything other than a minor change of a shirt sometimes (two characters off to the side who never come into contact with the others have their costume slightly altered as well) - it's just the actor becoming each of these very different people as they have a conversation. You know he's playing Alex, the Vet from Iraq, when he lifts his shoulders and squints his eyes. You know he's Sam when he gets a wide-eyed delirium, deepens his voice, and puffs out his chest. All of the characters have slightly different accents - so as he carries on conversations between the men, it's like watching a man possessed by different ghosts. You know immediately which one he is - and it's amazing to watch.
O'Connor starts the play off with the main character waking up hungover, in someone else's bed, vomiting after a night of margaritas and sex with the girl that "everyone wanted"...in high school. From the moment he picks up the cell phone to start talking to other characters, we realize that he's not imitating somebody in conversation; he's becoming the characters on the other end of the line. That was the only moment I was briefly - very briefly - confused. I thought he was simply talking to someone and making fun of them. Then I realized he was becoming the character on the other end of the line. Then I realized I was going to be in for an interesting ride.
Zero is a thought-provoking and moving production. Hilarious at many moments because of the sheer absurdity of grown men who live in a constant cycle of partying and trying to score with women (we all know so many of them); another humorous yet sad example is one character who was overweight all his life and is now a narcissist since he lost the weight and women suddenly desire him. It's tragic at other moments because the title, Zero is referring to these men who have allowed their lives to be centered around nothing but living in the past. So their life is really based around nothing...Zero. And as they look in the mirror, sometimes at a forty-five degree angle due to being too drunk to stand straight, they come to terms with their shortcomings and if they are going to change or continue on the same path.
One important aspect of this production is that it was co-written by Danny O'Connor's deceased brother, Robert O'Connor. Robert completed two tours in Iraq and passed away in 2006, but before and during that time created this piece with his brother. The character Alex, has a special significance in the show (inspired, no doubt by Robert's experiences); as the boys (for they are all boys even though they are of men's age) all sit around drinking shots, Alex talks about what it's like to kill someone over in Iraq; what a day in the life of an American soldier is like. As the lighting changes, (kudos to director Dujuan Pritchett's lighting choices and set design) highlighting what we see is an emotional recall for Alex as he tells his tale, the script goes from intense emotional moments like that to O'Connor's portrayal of Sam listening in drunken shock and hitting on a waitress. It's the O'Connor brothers' script and Danny's exceptional performance that allows this piece to be so much more than just a hard look at men who waste their lives while being truly hilarious at times; it's a play that takes the audience on a fantastic journey with twists and turns emotionally...all the while with Danny O'Connor at the wheel portraying six men who decide to either remain a Zero...or grow into something greater than themselves.
Octaviar Productions presents
Danny & Robert O'Connor's
Nov 15-Dec 30, 2008 (Mon-Sat @8:15pm)
Roy Arias Theatre II
Tickets are $29, students/seniors are $24, active military are $19. For tickets please visit www.theatermania.com or call 866-811-4111. Tickets may also be purchased in person half-hour prior to the performance at Roy Arias Theatre II. For more information visit www.zerotheplay.com
Roy Arias Theatre II | 616 9th Avenue | Manhattan.