Reading commentary between the lines

October 17, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

There's an old quip that some actors are so talented, audiences would pay to listen to them recite the telephone book. a sense, that's what goes on in "Memory Man," a one-man

show written and performed by Paul Clark and currently at the Theatre Project.

The most obvious difference is that Clark, an Englishman who lives in the Netherlands, is not -- and does not pretend to be -- an Olivier-scale mega-talent. Instead, he portrays a character who is somewhat of a freak; his only real talent is a photographic memory.

The character's story begins with a childhood of abject poverty, during which the sole family reading matter was a page torn from a telephone book and given to him by his father as a birthday present.

As related by Clark, whose professorial bearing is reinforced by his three-piece tweed suit and dead-pan delivery, this account takes on a quality best described as part "Ripley's Believe It or Not," part folk tale. The performer has a whimsical style; he intersperses his narrative with a couple of musical interludes, as well as a comical account of the Memory Man's father's inept efforts to talk to him about sex. Despite this, and the fact that the running time is only an hour, the pace occasionally drags, but along the way, this quirky presentation delivers a surprising number of satisfactions.

Not the least of these is the realization that in its extremely modest way, "Memory Man" comments on the nature of: Celebrity (the Memory Man becomes a minor star after memorizing the entire Kansas City telephone book); Anxiety (he has a recurring nightmare about the single phone number that has slipped his memory); Families (he grew up in a family that read phone numbers as a bedtime story, he's convinced his upbringing was normal); and last but not least, Theater (he thinks plays consist of actors learning all of the words in a book, even if the book is a telephone directory).

About halfway through, the proceedings begin to take on a nice circularity, which is neatly reinforced at the end. And, in its deceptively simple way, the show leaves you contemplating several intriguing issues. On one hand, it seems strange that audiences would be attracted to a freak with a photographic memory, but on the other, it doesn't seem any stranger than watching an actor perform a show about a freak with a photographic memory.

So who's the freak? Actor or the audience? During this week of presidential debates, "Memory Man" makes you reconsider the scary notion that perhaps it really isn't what you say, but how you say it.

'Memory Man'

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Oct. 25

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $14

$ Call: (410) 752-8558

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