Written and Directed by Edward Einhorn
Produced by Untitled Theater Company #61
Off Off Broadway, Interactive Solo Show
Runs through 11.3.19
Various venues across Manhattan
by Asya Gorovits on 10.29.19
Yvonne Roen in Performance for One. Photo courtesy of Untitled Theater Company #61
BOTTOM LINE: This one-on-one intimate show reflects on the role of the audience member in the form of a hyper-concentrated 10-minute dose of theatre.
At the Chashama Window Gallery a small part of the room is separated from the rest of the space with a white curtain. A mirror, window, and two chairs complete the tiny cubicle. It's similar to the set-ups of fortune tellers' shops, although I am not here to find out about my future but to listen to somebody else’s past.
Behind the curtain, an actress (Yvonne Roen in my case, but she is just one of a rotating cast) sits on one of two chairs, facing the street. What is about to unfold is Performance For One. As writer and director Edward Einhorn observes in his note, “Performance For One” is not just the title, but also the form and the subject of this solo show in two parts, each of which lasts for about ten minutes.
Sitting eye to eye at arm’s length with a stranger might feel uneasy, especially without the social norms and conventions of a familiar setting. Roen doesn’t test the borders of my discomfort and right away instructs me that I can look into her eyes, or at her forehead, or, if that’s too much, at her hands. “I sometimes find that people’s hands are more intimate than their eyes. I look into many people’s eyes but don’t remember many people’s hands.”
In her monologue, Roen talks about the memory of her late father's hands, which had a prominent “masculine” smell. But of course, this isn't Roen's memory—she's just speaking from Einhorn's script. From the beginning, the performer points out that both of us—actor and audience member—play roles. And now the third “player,” the writer, is introduced. Although unseen, Einhorn is present throughout Performance For One. The fact that the actor is the medium for his text is brought up several times, preventing me from lingering in the sweet illusion of a sincere connection to the storyteller.
But despite the recurring meta-theatrical remarks, Performance For One not only manages to succeed as a highly intellectual show but also as an emotion-packed experience. Are tears in the theatre—whether of actor or audience member—“real"? If you cry at a fictional story, are your emotions still valid? When I hold the actress’s hand, whose hands are those at that moment? Yvonne’s and Asya’s? Or maybe those of the playwright and his decaying mother?
It felt like only a few minutes passed from when I slipped behind the white curtain until I was back on the noisy, smelly midtown street. Yet this fleeting encounter left a mark on my day. During this short period, Roen and I made a connection. And if for Roen this moment might be lumped together with her other experiences of doing this show, for me, the memory stands out. I catch myself speculating about the inner life of the actor, and feel like in those twenty minutes I have grown as an audience member. When somebody trusts us with their story, our role entails empathetic listening, be it in theatre or everyday life.
(Performance For One plays at various locations across Manhattan, through November 3, 2019. The running time of each of the two parts is 10 minutes. Tickets are free. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to request a time. For performance dates, locations, and more information visit untitledtheater.com.)
Performance For One is written and directed by Edward Einhorn. Originally developed with Yvonne Roen. Produced by Untitled Theater Company # 61.
The rotating cast of actors is Elizabeth Chappel, Joshua Coleman, Andrea Gallo, Jan Leslie Harding, Allison Hiroto, Yvonne Roen, and Melissa Rakiro.