Whenever the common audience member hears the words one-man/woman show, they groan a little. They get suspicious. In theater, when you hear drama, you think it probably has to do with family or some coming of age tale that ends with a twist. When you hear comedy, you think witty lines and some nice slapstick. When you hear innovative, you automatically think about the stage design and the structure of the work. But when you hear one-man/woman show, you start questioning which one you are going to get. Some are pieces of self-reflection that pull you in and touch you through the words of this one person. Others are about what the author needs to exorcise, vanity projects that do little to include you but hope you pay to see them. Sadly for this industry, most one-person shows fall on the latter category. Luckily for me (and you,) “Cuckooed” by Mark Thomas falls on the former, and then transcends it.
Thomas lays bare his activist work, creating a story from his own reality that is more interesting than fiction. Directed by Emma Callander, Thomas recounts his work against the Arms Industry and celebrates his comrades in the struggle, constructing an interwoven web of friendship and deception through the laughter he provides us to easier understand what he is going through. Without missing a beat, we all fall in love with the people he talks about, cleverly making them part of the night by including their statements through carefully curated video conversations. Thomas is so likeable as a performer and a person, that we build a trust with these people. After all, if they are his friends, they must be trustworthy, which is why when the hammer drops, it smashes your heart into pieces and you, just like him, become desperate to find the same answer he is looking for.
This could be a vanity project, but it wasn’t. It used a personal account to produce a theme which goes beyond the actor and exposes what is truly a universal threat, a fear which resides in all of us. What Thomas does so well is that instead of exploiting that fear for a cheap reaction, he makes you feel comfortable with the idea of standing up to it, to look at in the face and laugh. That it is fine to be hurt as long as you don’t let it keep you down, that it is only okay to move on if you come out stronger. And in doing so, he does something not many shows do, he makes you think both personally and generally about everything around you.
“Cuckooed” is playing at the 59E59 Theaters until Saturday November 21st. Do not miss it. His charm is as important to the performance as his gripping tale, and his interaction with the audience will keep you not only entertained, but completely engrossed. Even I was part of the show at one moment, in which he entrusted me with keys and asks of me the same trust he asked of his comrades. If I failed, the show would have hit a bump and he would have to save it from an awkward moment, the same way he had to do in real life when his trust was broken. Honestly, I want to stand up right now and give it a standing ovation.
Out of four stars:
*All images via Richard Davenport
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