Playing diverse characters

Solo Performance
Last Updated 25 January 2010, 13:06 IST

“Switch off your cellphones or I will not be responsible for breaking them,” he said without much ado and thus set the tone for the rest of the performance that followed.

Appearing on a mostly bare stage at the Alliance Francaise theatre, Riley moved through the personas of 10 vividly diverse characters.

Homeless people, narcissistic rock stars, unscrupulous doctors, all based in America in the present time.

The production itself has no frills. Just a cast of one and very little in the way of sets or special effects. It's just Riley in his pants and plain shirt, spinning out the various lives and personalities.

He pulls clothes off a rack in the corner, and as he dons each tee shirt or tunic or jacket and becomes a different character.A homeless pan handler who has all the shakes and denials of a hopeless drug addict, “just released from Rikers Island” as he announces to the captive subway commuters, followed by a spate of reasons why “I need your money”.

 Next a drawling urban cowboy who brags about his sexual prowess, all because he's hugely endowed, before moving on to a British rock star appearing on a talk show. The rock star, a veteran of hedonistic excess, describes how he did drugs every day for five years ‘spending some of his best moments’ in drugged out haze of escapism.
The funny satirical part is that the rock star/druggie apparently had a mystical experience while listening to Phil Donahue, gave up drugs, and is now doing a benefit for the Amazon Indians.

Yet most of his conversation centres around drugs in a creepy nostalgic sort of way.
He then in turn becomes a hostile executive with a cellular phone glued to his ear, a doctor with a fake bedside manner and a nutty environmentalist who believes that  pollution patterns are turning cities into “human septic tanks” and oceans into “giant vats of oil and garbage and dead animals”.

The whole play is a telling indictment of American society as seen from the inside out by none other than Eric Bogosian, who is a great observer of the world around him.

The sad thing is that the characters are really bleak and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

(Published 25 January 2010, 13:05 IST)

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