The cosmos is a pretty intimidating concept. So is creating and starring in a one-man show. Luckily, with an adroit poeticism, writer and performer Chris Davis manages to successfully explore both in his intimate Capital Fringe show Bortle 8.
In Bortle 8, Davis explores darkness as a metaphysical conceit and a state of being. The genesis of Bortle 8 is twofold, inspired by both a breakup and Paul Bogard’s book The End of Night. The mysterious title comes from John Bortle, an amateur astronomer who created a scale that measures how dark the night sky is to the person who is seeing it. “Bortle 8” is the darkest skies, in which one can see the most stars. It is that fact that Davis clings to throughout his lightly comic journey – that one must see true darkness before seeing the twinkle of light.
The worst solo performances come off as self-centered, asking us to go on the performer’s journey rather than inviting us into their world. Davis’s performance style is the opposite – he playfully asks the audience about their stories in order to relate. This isn’t always successful, and, like all crowd work, depends on the night, but it allows us to feel a little more invested in Davis’s journey.
Written and performed by Chris Davis
Directed by Mary Tomanen
Composer: Adriano Shaplin
Details and tickets
The story takes some time to warm up. Early on in the show’s genesis, one wonders where Davis is going with his narrative, which tumbles a bit between his early life in Philadelphia, to small relationship anecdotes, to trading barbs with the audience. These moments are a little rambling, but once Davis gets into the meat of his story, which is traveling with a wacky characterization of John Bortle himself to the fantastical ends of the universe, Davis is mesmerizing.
Effortlessly, he switches between quips and insights, in a repetitive cadence that slowly builds in rhythm to the play’s climax. Davis uses his body to illustrate facets of his story with gentle gestures, often well-timed with the music. Adriano Shaplin’s sound design is sharp, giving just the amount of sci-fi weirdness the show needs without becoming distracting at any point during the narrative.
In a festival saturated with raunchy storytelling and brooding drama, Bortle 8 is a breath of fresh air. It’s smart without being pretentious, silly without going over the top. With a little tighter opening material, Bortle 8 has a life beyond the Capital Fringe Festival, and Davis could take his celestial journey far across his current terrestrial home.