Hip Shot: Waiting for Orson
Fort Fringe – The Shop
Thursday, July 25, 7:45p.m.
Friday, July 26, 11:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 3:00p.m.
They say: "Inspired by actual events. Featured in February’s Capital Fringe Artist Interview, an idealist and his psychiatrist ex-girlfriend explore the cusp of enlightenment or insanity as he waits in New York’s Penn Station for a visit from an extraterrestrial."
Greg's Take:There’s a moment early on in Ian Leahy’s excellent play Waiting for Orson when Tristan the protagonist is caught talking to himself on a Bluetooth. Perceiving judgment from a fellow traveler, he points to the earpiece, turns to the other man and —while in the process, mind you, of waiting for a life-altering, universe-explaining sonic rendezvous with an extra-terrestrial in the middle of Penn Station—gives him a look that says, See? I’m not crazy. It’s small and it’s subtle, but in its own way that moment is indicative of everything that’s truly amazing about how this play can wrestle with the big questions about life, sanity and the universe while still remaining grounded and, dare I say it, human.
In fact, it’s tough to know where to begin praising this show because everything about it just sort of works, but I guess the lead role is a good enough place to start. In his performance as Tristan, Christopher Scott Leith manages to bring something truly special to the table, in large part because of what he doesn’t do: He doesn’t go crazy. In a role depicting someone who in all likelihood is losing his mind, he doesn’t go stomping around the stage or make wild eyes at the audience or bay at the moon. He maintains, for the most part, a calm and collected veneer, patiently explaining to the people in his life how crucial it is that he wait for this alien encounter. And because of Leith’s conviction, his quiet insistence that there could be nothing more important than his impending extra-terrestrial pow-wow, it becomes increasingly difficult to buy into the claim that he’s lost his marbles.
The writing and direction also deserve heaping spoonfuls of credit for making Orson as good as it is. Leahy’s script is daring and understated at the same time, but most impressively it’s about a guy waiting for someone who probably won’t ever show up, and yet it manages to never become boring.
The direction, like the writing, is deft and smooth, and is able to stray away from static staging in a play where most of the dialogue takes place over the phone. And the rest of director Rebekah Heldt’s six-person cast is just as impressive as her lead is. All of her actors—and in more than one case, actor/musicians—give real, grounded performances, including a heartfelt turn as Tristan’s onstage dad by the younger actor’s real-life dad Charles R. Leith.
My one and only complaint about Waiting for Orson is that its facade of realism is not perfect. There are cracks in it. There are moments where Tristan goes a bit overboard, or where an unclear staging decision would make me wonder how a person got there and what they were doing. They’re small, and they’re certainly not enough to taint the show, but they did jar with the continuity of the production nonetheless.
Hiccups aside though, this is one of the most impressive shows I’ve seen at Fringe this year, so much so that I'm only now realizing I’ve made it all the way to the last paragraph without saying what it’s about. At face value, it’s about a guy who’s probably crazy but may not be waiting in a New York subway station for an alien. But it’s also about much, much more. It’s about the way we humans interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. It’s about having faith, in your convictions, in your senses, in your loved ones. It’s about the universe, and everything in it. And to be able to cover all that ground and still pull it off is certainly worth the wait.
See it if: You want to see a talented team of artists wrestle with some of the biggest questions of all time.
Skip it if: Oof, that sounds like a lot of work.