ONE MAN LORD OF THE RINGS written and performed by Charles Ross, directed by T. J. Dawe. Presented by PKF Productions at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. July 2 at 8:30 pm, July 3 at 5 pm, July 4 at 1:30 pm, July 6 at 9 pm, July 8-9 at 7 pm, July 10 at 4:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
The force is clearly with Charles Ross. The guy who transported sold-out Fringe 2002 audiences to a theatrical galaxy far, far away with his One Man Star Wars Trilogy is back with yet another fantasy-film-lover's geekfest.
Yes, Ross has grabbed hold of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
In less than 60 minutes - his only accessories being a bottle of water and knee and elbow pads - Ross makes the epic journey from the Shire to Mount Doom, wielding dozens of invisible arrows, killing hundreds of Orcs and deconstructing many iconic moments with deadpan wit along the way.
Brace yourself for the return of the Fringe king.
"After Star Wars, it was the obvious trilogy that rocked," he tells me from his Victoria, BC, home a week before his Toronto run.
"People were biting on it before I wrote it. I hadn't even seen the final film. Now that's pressure."
Pressure is something the actor is used to. You can't sleepwalk through an hour-long recreation of the Star Wars films, including credits, bits of John Williams's score and the hilarious sexual subtexts between Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
In fact, the first trilogy was so demanding - he broke into a sweat after a few minutes - that Ross had to adjust the show to save his health.
"I used to do this 90-degree back bend to imitate Han Solo going into carbon freeze," he explains. "It resulted in these gigantic balls of something in my back. I couldn't walk. All for a two-second effect."
The idea for a Star Wars show first came when he and pal T. J. Dawe - who directs both trilogies and is, like Ross, a child of the 80s and a Fringe favourite - were playing frisbee a decade ago.
"We made up this rule where whoever threw the frisbee had to say a line from one of the Star Wars films, and before the other person caught it he had to give the next line," laughs Ross. "I watched the films hundreds of times as a kid, but I didn't realize I knew the film so well."
A few years later, before appearing in front of a small crowd at a Toronto theatre, he penned the trilogy for three actors. Dawe and pal Michael Rinaldi told him it could work with one.
Since then, it's been performed across North America, on and off the Fringe circuit. Ross even did an impromptu version of Star Wars while backpacking in Turkey a couple of years ago, for free beer and a pass-the-hat take.
"It's become this wonderful passport. That's the thing about Hollywood films. They stretch way beyond Western borders."
One of Ross's strengths is his ability to distill the essence of a character or scene to its bare minimum. He's a master caricaturist. I'll never forget his Jabba the Hut, created by placing his forearms over each other, mimicking the creature's mouth.
"My friend Paul Fauteux told me about a National Theatre School audition where he had to condense a favourite play into 30 seconds. It gets you thinking about what's important. We make little sound effects when we tell stories. A piece of music can convey so much.
"Growing up, I loved people like Rich Little and the actors in Saturday Night Live - impressionists who could do one tiny little thing to convey a huge amount. I even remember seeing those stupid Police Academy movies and realizing that this actor named Michael Winslow could build an entire career doing sound effects."
But don't call him a novelty act. Dawe's name is recognized in Fringe and theatre circles, but Ross is largely known as "that guy who does the One Man Star Wars Trilogy.
"You get slotted," he says. "Will I get a ton of other work out of this? Will theatre directors or producers look at me and think I can fit into some other role? I don't know. I've been in auditions. It's a hard game. I hate being part of that rat race, vying for a little scrap of meat from the artistic director's table. So I'm willing to try something different."
With demand for the trilogies marking off the next two years of his performing life, Ross says he's scoping around for another property. He's considering everything from the Indiana Jones works to the Godfather movies. It's no coincidence that both guy-heavy trilogies have iconic appeal.
"Also," Ross points out with charming geek enthusiasm, "consider the connections among all the directors, Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas - all friends, all of the same generation who influenced film in the 1970s and beyond."
And then there's the next Star Wars film, which will complete Lucas's second trilogy.
"I'm not trying to go all Switzerland, but Lucas has made a new set of films for a whole new group of people," he says. "Some people say they're awful, but, hey, when we were younger we loved Ewoks."
He's also thought of putting together two shows based on the directors' cuts of the trilogies. Geek alert?
"If we're defined by what we do, I guess I'm a super-geek, an über-geek," he says. "In high school I wasn't one - I was the valedictorian. Most geeks were people who were more mature and open to being shot at. Today I'm ready for the shot."
And has Ross heard from anyone associated with Lucas? It's not like he sought any rights to the scripts.
"Two weeks after this article comes out there's some exciting news from the powers that be regarding the Star Wars show," says Ross, who often donates proceeds to charities. "It's going to be on my Web site, www.onemanstarwars.com. I can't say what it is, but it's cool. It's not like I'm merchandising anything or trying to become a millionaire.
"I'm coming from a place of love for these films."