Solo Noir: Chicago Playwright Douglas Post and English Actor Simon Slater Team Up For Bloodshot
"He had a funny kind of accent, but his clothes weren't from the Red Shields and his hair didn't look like his mother had cut it, so I guessed he was on the level when he strolled into my office, He came to the point right away. 'I can do magic tricks, play the saxophone and ukulele, I can speak in different voices—oh, and I'm a famous British actor. Do you think you could write me a solo play where I'd get to do all these things?'
"'Hmmm' I thought, 'If this limey had pitched this over the transom, like we do in this country, or slipped it through the mail-slot, like they do on his patch, this could be the start of a detective story.' I decided to take on the challenge."
Obviously, this is NOT how Douglas Post came to write Bloodshot, the solo show starring Simon Slater, currently enjoying its American premiere under the auspices of the Greenhouse's Solo Celebration series—or is it? Our story is set in the UK, isn't it? Doesn't it involve murder, a beautiful woman, and aren't the suspects a Russian illusionist, a ukulele-strumming Irish comedian, and an American jazz musician? Isn't it also true that when we meet our sleuth, he is a clean and sober freelance photographer, having abandoned crime-scene work after experiencing too many alcohol-fueled blackouts, but still retaining his contacts on the force?
"I first met Simon Slater in 1999," Post recalls, "He was one of the leads in the English tour of [my play] Earth and Sky. We became friends, and he'd come see me whenever he passed through Chicago. On one such visit, he broached the idea of commissioning me to write him a play that would showcase his talents as an actor, a musician, a singer, and a magician. I was thrilled by the prospect and welcomed the assignment."
It was Post's suggestion to make the play a murder mystery—a genre in which he has written extensively, both seriously and satirically. "I don't know of any plays for one actor that use this genre as a starting point, but I was determined to see if we could do it—and do it successfully."
Thanks to Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker, we yankees have come to expect a strong first-person narrative voice with this brand of whodunit, as opposed to the English custom of employing an outside third-person witness to recount the progress of the detection (e.g. Dr. Watson). Literary style, however, was not Post's concern, so much as the manner of speech by which we come to know our reluctant shamus, "We're in London and it's 1957." Post reminds us, " I didn't want [the play] to sound like an American wrote it in 2010. Plot and dialect are important, but we also had to make sure that we were accurately replicating how an Englishman—from that period, remember—would actually phrase things."
So do the creators think their project is a success? "In theater, the playwright always has to support the actors," declares Post, "but the chief thing I've learned from this process is what a huge responsibility it is to write a play for only one actor. Telling a story about not only murder, but touching on social conditions and popular entertainment after WW II in a different culture, alcohol addiction, racism and sexism, when you're entirely reliant on yourself, is a high wire act without anybody to catch you—and that's what makes the experience so exhilarating."
He chuckles, "On the other hand, [a solo actor] doesn't have to share his equity cot. And the cast parties are more affordable."
Bloodshot runs at The Greenhouse through September 10.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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