Solo shows in small venues are a high-stakes venture for both the performer and the audience. If it’s bad, sitting through it up close and personal can be inescapably awkward. But if it’s good, the intimacy of the venue becomes essential to an experience that rewards both the artist and the viewers. 12 Steps gets it right: it connects right from the start with humor, depth, and sincerity. Simply put, it’s a joy to watch.
Richard Sautter is the writer and performer of this solo piece, which interprets the highs, lows, sacrifices and successes of an actor’s life through the lens of the widely known 12-step program to overcome addiction.
The analogy is obviously imperfect: acting is a career and a passion that often goes hand in hand with the desire to bring something new into the world, while clinical substance abuse is usually thought to be the opposite. Most of the time. But the similarities Sautter elicits through a seamless weaving of humor and empathetic personal stories are what make the show so good.
The idea is very meta: it’s a show by an actor portraying himself, and the supposed intended audience is other actors whom he can invite along with him on his journey of recovery. The venue plays right into premise: Sautter calls the upstairs performance space at the Argonaut the “Fringe equivalent of a church basement,” referring to the stereotypical location for 12 Step meetings. And he’s not wrong: the space certainly has that vibe.
Written and performed by Richard Sautter
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But any concerns that the show may be too much on the inside to appeal to a general audience are quickly washed away. If anything, it’s probably the other way around. For acting junkies, Sautter may be simply preaching to the choir, telling them everything they already knew. But for those less familiar with an actor’s life, the exploration of the fine line between a career, a calling and an addiction is very relatable to anyone who has made sacrifices for their own passionate pursuits.
The show isn’t without some lulls. Sautter attempts to take the audience through each of the twelve steps and demonstrate their relevance to an actor’s life. Most of the time, this conceit works very well, but there are some spots in the middle where it’s less effective. Mainly, that’s because the original text of the steps in question are fairly similar to each other, which leaves Sautter attempting to cover for the redundancy. He certainly manages well through digressions into the explicitly religious elements of the 12 Step program and its far less inspiring humanist counterparts, but in some small parts it feels like an interruption from a narrative that is, for the most part, fast-paced and emotionally compelling.
But that’s just a minor nitpick in a show that I would otherwise highly recommend. Whether you’re an actor looking for a sermon or just a passer-by looking to explore a new tradition, you’ll enjoy your time in the church basement with Richard Sautter, and come away happier for the experience.
12 Steps . Writer and performer: Richard Sautter . Stage Manager: Mariah Ligas . Board operator: Kris McCormick . Reviewed by Dante Atkins.
Runtime: 60 minutes, no intermission
Reviewer: Dante Atkins