One person shows are seldom just that. For a start, there are, of course, at least two participants: the storyteller (the actor) and the listener (the audience), with the latter invariably becoming another character to make the monologue into, in fact, at least a duologue if not exactly a dialogue. Then there are the offstage contrivances many writers resort to: conversations on the telephone, an intercom, at the offstage front door, or indeed by acknowledging the audience itself.
Rose, a new play by Martin Sherman, however, does none of those things. Not since Wallace Shawn's The Fever, in fact, have I seen such a direct, naked, raw monologue, delivered without any distracting theatrical business at all. Like The Fever, Rose features a single person sitting and speaking - or in the case of the eponymous character of Sherman's play, sitting and speaking and speaking and speaking (the play runs two and a half hours, including interval). If nothing else, the evening represents an extraordinary feat of memory alone for the actor concerned.
Since, however, the writer is Sherman (whose previous plays include Bent and When She Danced), and the actor here is the subtle and captivating American stage and film star Olympia Dukakis, the evening is much, much more. Sherman has written a beautifully crafted elegy for a Jewish survivor: a woman of 80 who survived the Warsaw ghettos and left the old country to forge a new life in America, settling first in Atlantic City before ending up running a hotel in Miami Beach, via time spent living in a hippy commune in Connecticut. Her son, however, settles in the promised land, Israel; and she pays regular but disturbing visits, as a war is being fought there in Lebanon, with hard consequences, particularly for one of her grandchildren.
Rose is not a comfortable work - it s dark and demanding to listen to, and asks challenging and difficult questions. Dukakis, however, makes it a joy to watch: though she is almost entirely static, sitting alone at a bench and only occasionally refreshing herself from a glass of water (every sip is actually scripted), she is a wonderfully sympathetic actress. Best known for her Oscar-winning performance in the film Moonstruck and her Anna Madrigal in the television adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Dukakis is a deeply intuitive and alert stage actress. As her features now register radiance and now distress, the play and its performer inexorably exert their hold.