by David Lally · February 3, 2015
I love solo shows. I make it a point to see almost every solo performance I can and I count seeing every one of John Leguizamo’s shows and Lily Tomlin’s The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe, several times in different incarnations as some of the highlights of my play going experiences. It is not an easy thing to do and I admire any performer who can get up on a stage by themselves (not counting comedians) and craft an entire world in front of your eyes. So with high expectations, I ventured this past weekend to see two very different solo performances.
The Buffalo is Anthony Sneed’s one man show at the deceptively charming Under St. Mark’s space. Deceptive because standing outside the venue may give you pause but once you step inside it is quite a charming little space and The Buffalo is a charming little show.
Written and performed by Anthony Sneed and directed by Armando Merlo, The Buffalo is based on real events from the time Mr. Sneed was 14 years old. Being raised by a single Mom and a sometimes appearing/disappearing Dad, he moved around a lot and had a hard time fitting in, so when he moves back to a school district he was familiar with, he made big strides for acceptance. He makes the mistake of wearing Fubu his first day of school and is quickly told he needs JNCO’s jeans to fit in. This sets up a series of events where he not only sets out to fit in but to impress his classmates as well, ultimately bringing a gun to school which results in getting himself expelled.
Sent off to live with his uncle in Missouri, who is part of a born again Christian community called Heartland, Anthony ends up milking cows in their dairy next to born again criminals, gangbangers and sex offenders, all characters he brings to vivid life. (Heartland, it turns out, was a cult, which years later, was exposed for having abused and tortured kids in the pursuit of God.) By focusing on this specific time in his life, Mr. Sneed has crafted a detailed and intimate show and paints a vivid picture of his life at that age. The lesson here is sometimes by fitting in, you have to stand out.
Mr. Sneed, though, seemed unsure of himself at times, often stumbling over some of the text and stopping as if he wasn’t sure what was supposed to come next. The show is energetic but sometimes I felt that the energy was nervous energy more than anything else. The show is not polished by any means, which sometimes lends to the charm, but also works against it. Mr. Sneed’s strengths lie in his text and his tale is well told. In time I think he can become a very good solo artist. I consider this performance like watching a diamond in the rough.
By contrast, Gathering The Magic is a highly polished, energetic hour and a half combining slice-of-life storytelling with sophisticated stage magic. Mr. Lugo gives us a brief history of his life and how boy meets magic kit, boy becomes magician. His show reminded me much of Jay Johnson’s solo show of a few years ago, The Two And Only. In that show, Mr. Johnson (famous for his characters Chuck and Bob on ABC’s comedy Soap) not only explains the history and allure of ventriloquism, but demystifies it by telling us some of the tricks of the trade, then using those tricks to fool us. Mr. Lugo does much the same thing with magic, and the show, and Mr. Lugo, are an utter delight. Mr. Lugo’s enthusiasm and love for his craft gives us, the audience, a deeper appreciation of why we love magic tricks so much. The lesson here is not always HOW a trick is done (a question Mr. Lugo hates with a passion), but WHY is it done?
The show also includes an opening act each night. The night I attended it was the charming and zany Killy “Mockstar” Dwyer. Without giving away the novelty of her act, let’s just say that she knows how to create comic masterpieces of sing-a-long fun using modern technology very well.
Both shows hit their mark in terms of entertaining their audience and both are worth checking out. As for Mr. Sneed, he should take heart that even John Leguizamo and Lily Tomlin didn’t hatch into seasoned performers overnight. I look forward to seeing more of Mr. Sneed’s solo work in the future and I’d easily go back for anything Mr. Lugo presents.
(Photo of Nelson Lugo by Ben Mann)