A one-man 'Star Wars' show, it is

Charlie Ross even voices the swoosh of a light saber in his production at Center Stage

December 11, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Of the 1,200 performances that Charlie Ross has given of his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, the most memorable might have been a show he performed in Dubai in early 2006.

"Some people in the audience were in full Lawrence of Arabia gear, with flowing robes and head-wraps," he says. "It was quite strange to see that mixed crowd genuinely enjoying themselves. I shudder to think that there might be people living in the desert who watch Star Wars on televisions in their tents, but it's completely possible."

The mind boggles.

But then, Ross' mind has been boggling quite a bit since he decided in 2001 to distill the three of the six Star Wars movies featuring Luke Skywalker - down to 20 minutes apiece. Ross performs without costumes, sets or props, but inhabits about 40 characters in the space of 65 minutes. He also provides all of his own sound effects, from the swoosh of a light saber to R2-D2's oddly articulate beeps.

In the past seven years, Ross has brought his show to more than 200 cities on four continents - including, Baltimore. Trilogy is running at Center Stage through Dec. 21.

"I've had offers to perform in India and Japan and South Africa," Ross says during a recent phone call. "I always wonder about the language barrier, if I will run up against a wall where it is impossible to perform the show in a way that the audience will understand. But if that wall exists, I haven't found it yet."

In a sense, Ross, 34, was living in the Canadian equivalent of a desert when he first encountered George Lucas' seminal 1977 film, which introduced idealistic farm boy Luke, intergalactic adventurer Han Solo, and Leia, the warrior princess with the cinnamon-bun hairstyle.

Ross' family had moved to an area of British Columbia so isolated and sparsely developed that its farm didn't receive television or radio broadcasts. Young Charlie had exactly three entertainment options.

"Nine times out of 10, I would watch Star Wars rather than the Shogun miniseries or The Blue Lagoon." he says. "I probably saw Star Wars 400 times before I was 10 years old. By then, the damage had been done. Something had to result from this highly trivial and useless knowledge."

Ross was a student in 1994 when he met T.J. Dawe, whose store of Star Wars minutiae rivaled his own. The two friends tossed around the idea of boiling down the movies into stage shows for one to three actors. But it took more than six years for Ross to write Trilogy, for Dawe to direct it and for the pair to take the act on the road.

The stage show covers just episodes 4, 5 and 6, or half of Lucas' series. Ross says that's partly because these three - which were the first to be filmed - were the only Star Wars movies that existed when he began to craft his play, and partly because he can't summon much affection for episodes 1 through 3, which explore how Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker, became the evil Darth Vader.

"If you love something and poke fun at it, then you have a show that people can laugh at it," he says. "If you don't love something and still poke fun at it, that's malice. The audience will sense it."

Some reviewers have said One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is full of inside references, and that the show may be best appreciated by aficionados of the films - a fact for which Ross doesn't apologize.

"If you see the title and don't understand that the Star Wars movies are the basis for my show, you probably shouldn't get behind the wheel of a car," he says.

"I've always said that going to the Trilogy is like going to an opera. It's in a different language, and there are no subtitles. It's not all geek talk, but if you don't know the movies, you won't get all the jokes."

Still, he says, the films have a humanity that transcends cliques. Ross' single favorite line from the movies is Yoda's pronouncement: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

"Every time I say that line, I think about my grandmother," he says. "She became trapped in her body due to a stroke. But she was much more than her physical limitations. I love the whole sensibility of these films, which tells people not to judge one another."

if you go

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy runs through Dec. 21 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Showtimes are 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $28-$30. Call 410-332-0033 or go to centerstage.org.

charlie ross

Age: 34

Occupation: Actor/writer

Best known for: One-Man Stars Wars Trilogy, which he has been performing since 2001

Residence: Victoria, British Columbia

Birthplace: Prince George, British Columbia

Education: Bachelor of fine arts from the University of Victoria in 1997

Personal: Engaged to his partner of the past 10 years

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