One Man

Steven Berkoff

Presented by The Culture Project at 45 Bleecker, New York.

(2002)

Review by Catherine Lamm

Like champagne, foie gras, truffles and caviar, Steven Berkoff is an acquired taste. For more than thirty years, Berkoff has been unapologetically the enfante terrible of the theatre.

One Man is a triptych of Berkoff characters: Edgar Allen Poe's killer from The Tell-Tale Heart and two Berkoff creations, the Actor and Dog with loutish master. Not his best work but a fair sampling of the inner workings of a unique talent.

In Poe's The Tell-Tall Heart Berkoff, with pencil thin moustache in long coat, ruff and spats, leads us on an adventure of murder. We live through the crime and reasoning of murder on the edge of our chairs from initial plotting through every gruesome detail of the victim's dismemberment. Even as the victim's heart beats beneath him, ours race with the suspense. Berkoff's morsels are so complete that we laugh at the reality and recognition of each moment dissected.

Berkoff's Dog is a portrait of a relationship between a pit-bull and its master, a "fascistic, football loving, lager lout" in a Union Jack tee shirt and Doc Martin's. The dog growls viscously at everyone, tugs against his lead, and has a go a shredding the head of a child while the lout guzzles beer and spews the obscenities of his life at us, often extolling the gentleness of the beast. We love to laugh at how the other half lives, not the crusty or amiable Brits we have come to know, but the scabby equivalent of our red-necks. Berkoff gives it to us raw and unwashed, perspiration continually running down his face. We laugh only because it cannot touch us. It's the other guy.

The middle character is Berkoff's own Actor. This love poem to the struggling actor is lyrical and rich in language and imagery. The actor continually walking through and being affected by his world. We get a glimpse of his attitude toward his parents, the women in his life and his competition. Berkoff offers him to us masterfully and it shows him at his physical best. His poetry and mime training keep him always in check and at the pinnacle of his talent. This is Berkoff at his best.

With only the collaboration of Giselda Beaudin (lighting), Berkoff lures and drags us with him on his macabre journeys. Each action and emotion so fully realized that there can be no mistaking his interpretation. He thinks for us. He opens his veins and his soul. He is a theatrical force unlike any other.