Na-nu na-nu. There, now that’s out of the way.
Waiting for Orson gives audiences a seat next to Tristan (Christopher Leith), a wholesome 30-something with Midwestern appeal who just happens to believe an alien wants to meet him at Penn Station.
Tristan sits patiently for days on end – believing cosmic enlightenment awaits – even as friends, family and ex-lovers (both present and imagined) urge him to abandon the vigil and get back on his medication.
Local playwright Ian Leahy draws inspiration for Orson from actual and very personal events. He wins points for smooth dialogue, meaningful transitions, engaging characters and a believable story.
With the help of a “starving” musician (Craig Grabarczyk), Orson uses music skillfully and with purpose, sometimes romantically and sometimes a dissonant backdrop for Tristan’s declining mental health.
Strong supporting actors help drive both humor and action, including a delightfully mustachioed Charles Leith as Tristan’s father (among others) and a versatile performance from the musically talented Erin Renee Morgan, who plays a number of small but important roles.
Waiting for Orson
by Ian Leahy
at Fort Fringe – The Shop
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Therapist and ex-girlfriend Rachel (Sherry Bollero) offers Tristan the chance to pine for and dance with his ex-lover, even as he engages in a stalwart defense of his conviction in Orson’s existence both to her and to an old college pal (Patrick Wagner).
For all that, this could just as easily be a one-man show. Christopher Leith’s rendering of Tristan is likeable enough to leave audience members hoping a little green man really does step off of the 66 train from Baltimore to greet him. As his mental state declines, however, the performance turns dark and grisly.
If Leahy intended to challenge his audience to believe in Tristan and his extraterrestrial fantasy, Orson may not accomplish its mission. Tristan is sick with a common and treatable mental illness, as loved ones and professional observers rightly point out as the work unfolds.
What the play does provide, however, is a commendable dedication to discovery and spiritual understanding, however deluded or misguided the approach of Orson’s protagonist. The play is less an examination of outer space’s possibilities and more a voyeuristic opportunity to watch a severe psychotic episode unfold. Still, the audience will likely depart with varied opinions on what they saw, or more what Tristan saw, and perhaps that’s the point.
In the search for what’s out there, Orson is more a small step for man and less a giant leap for mankind, but the play asks good questions and is good theater to boot.