The lights dim as an eerie stringed arrangement blankets the audience in a veil of unease. It darkens further as a man dressed in black, priest-like garb takes long, confident strides to the stage. The slowly reawakening lights abate the tension to reveal the man and a chair, almost to induce the experience of the titular character in The Man in the Desert as he awakens in an amnesic haze.
Stephen Mead instantly captures your attention with a pronounced-yet-quick delivery of the tale’s initial narrative lines. With such an alluring introduction you would be hard pressed to refuse this fusion of Western drama, dark magic, and quirky beings.
You may think, perhaps, that an English actor, using his unfiltered voice to narrate an American western, may be ill fit for the task. And, just perhaps, that case may render itself true during some half-hammed and unenthused parallel occurrence of this performance in a realm suitably (and thankfully) inaccessible by us.
But here? Not here. Mead seamlessly evokes one character after another in rapid succession; from the forceful, driving narrator to the husky, born-of-the-earth Gabriel to the sweet and well-mannered Sarah. All manner of characters vividly form through his distinct, convincing, and bold voices, delivered with an almost fervid zeal. He brings forth visual life to even minor characters through voice alone; the testament to his talents becomes radiantly apparent, and you’ll quickly recognize this man is no novice.
The Man in the Desert
by Edwin Cooper
45 minutesat Caos on F
923 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
Lights of blue and violet transmogrify the stage into a barren nightscape, and well-timed cracks of thunder that play in unison with Stephen’s already-booming voice will jolt you awake. But you won’t be bored or drowsy during this show. It’s too damn fun.
The actual tale is less entrancing than the auditory and visual features. The main character remains criminally mysterious throughout the short play, which denies us a triumphant conclusion but instead brings us back where he found us, grateful for the ride.