To say I was “pleasantly surprised” by Slash Coleman‘s solo show Big Plastic Heroes currently playing at UNDER St. Marks as part of the FRIGID Festival is an understatement. All signs pointed to this show being a raucous, self-aggrandizing narcissistic sausage-fest devoted to testosterone-ladened cultural touchstones and overblown Americana. After all, the artwork for the show features Coleman not only as Evel Knievel, but as the Bicentennial edition of Knievel, bedecked in red white and true-blue … superhero cape included. He’s even clutching a football helmet. Yes, the show I expected to see was vastly different than the one which actually unfolded before me. Within the first few minutes “pleasantly surprised” was overtaken by “completely mesmerized”. From there, it only got better.
Writer and performer Slash Coleman is a born storyteller – he has a way of not only captivating his audience but virtually hypnotizing them as his style and cadence allows his story to spring up around him as if by magic. Using no props, no sound effects, and only very subtle lighting cues Coleman seems to need nothing more than his chair and his voice to support his tale.
So what about the outfit? Is this truly a story about Evel Kinevel? Yes. Of course it is. Or rather, Kinevel forms the base-note for a series of events which Coleman relates – a time harking back to his childhood. During the day 8 year old Coleman lived in a world consumed by the Bicentennial, preparing emotionally for the big jump his hero intends to make. At night he gives himself over to innocent but romantic dreams where he is really old (13) and his 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Autumnbright is really young (12) and all signs point to him becoming her hero.
The story does not take a straightforward path — there are offshoots and byways; one moment we are with Coleman in his dream, pursuing the errant beach ball of his beloved (There was the breath of a beautiful girl inside that ball!) the next moment we are transported to the Moulin Rouge and it is 1937. In between these jumps we are given snapshots of the people who populate his world. We meet his French mother who kept her Jewish roots in the closet, his Southern dad who made sculptures which consisted of a mash up of taxidermy and bread, his neighbors who hailed from Israel and kissed everyone on the lips (I counted 163 kisses before we got to the table!). Coleman embodies them all, speaking their language for us, whether it’s the “intelligent but unintelligible” droning of Mr. Mermelstein or the strange clicks and pops his “circus freak” twin sisters used as they hid behind their idioglossia.
Coleman voices (and embodies) all these characters convincingly and seamlessly – moving effortlessly from deep southern twang when emulating his Virginian Dad to husky French when becoming his maternal grandfather. He also does an admirable Howard Cosell.
But, good as they are, it’s not the vocal calisthenics which grab you as you lean forward in your seat, captivated by this story. It’s the charismatic way that Coleman is simultaneously humble yet self-assured. He is more of a story-teller than an actor, and the cosy layout of UNDER St. Marks, which lends itself to the solo-show in general, services Coleman’s in particular. He is a modern day Homer — no doubt had he lived thousands of years ago he would be holding crowds transfixed by firelight in a similar fashion.
Slash Coleman’s story ends not so much with a period or an exclamation point as with a comma – much like the comma-shaped mark that he traces along the surface of his X-Ray, the glowing reminder of his Gladiator moment when he went head to, well, jaw with a dog and received 144 stitches, a permanent tooth mark in his skull, and the opportunity to finally hold hands with Mrs. Autumnbright as she escorts him throughout the days after his accident. The comma, he tells himself, is there to remind him to keep adding to his dreams … one after the other. It’s a moment that is pure and honest.
At the end of Big Plastic Heroes I felt like I’d only just settled in, and could have sat through many more stories. But I treasure that comma, for it means many more stories to come.
I went in expecting one thing – I left with quite another. A hero. A big plastic hero.
Big Plastic Heroes Company: Plastic Thunder Feb 29, 10:30PM Mar 01, 10:30PM Mar 03, 5:30PM Mar 04, 2:30PM $15.00 UNDER St.Marks