We’ve been telling stories since humans got together over a fire – likely before. Some are pictorial (from the time of cave paintings), some written (papyrus to the printing press and digital), some oral. Theater that frames the latter evolved centuries ago. We eventually legitimized the art by christening solo performers who share their own experience, monologists. (Examples: Spaulding Gray and Mike Birbiglia.) Not all one person shows fit into the category, but its frequency is increasing as playwrights glean the wisdom of low cost, mobile productions and actor/writers create work for themselves.
Lin Shaye studied with Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasberg. When she decided to tell a 1968 story of personal joy and trauma, the performer had tools at her disposal. Tripping On Life is both narrated and acted; the artist plays multiple characters. Format is that of a screenplay with fades, black-outs and cuts. It’s quirky, but doesn’t hurt the piece.
1968 “The year that was war, murder, riots, unrest…but for hippies, unshakable love and optimism bathed in innocence…We learned to say ‘fuck’ and mean it…danger was dead, replaced instead by a bright white light…” I would argue that rose colored glasses were not pervasive outside of drug use. Those who otherwise reflected Shaye’s description were defiantly optimistic. Vietnam, bigotry, and the fight for Civil Rights presented serious danger. As a generation, however, we tried to find peaceful options. Hope was possible and communicable.
California. We meet 20 year-old Lin riding a 650 BMW motorcycle strapped to the back of a flatbed truck, blonde hair whipping in her face, exuberant, oblivious – high. Marshall, the driver, is her sinewy, musician husband of five hours, “stoned to the gills” and speeding. The vehicle is stopped by highway patrol, a Brooklyn beer and calzone guy with a (sounded like) code in his dose Marshall refers to as “Dude dee doo dude,” and George, who seems gobsmacked at the fact of the couple as much as their behavior.
Description of the scene, its nonplussed cops and subversively amusing, spaced out young people is beautifully detailed; manifestation of the characters pitch perfect. It’s very easy to unbelievably exaggerate being wasted on stage. Shaye has it down with physical attributes and irrepressible giggles.
From here we track backwards to the wide-eyed beginning of her relationship with Marshall, his sweet, perpetually doped up roommates, her parents’ middle class reactions, a cinematically unexpected wedding, colorful domesticity and tragedy. When Lin-Linda is upset, narration becomes tremulous or choked.
The piece is deftly economic. It tells the story and ends….at the beginning. Not a word or scene too much. Shaye is captivating.
Movement about the stage is pedestrian, but characters are well etched and pacing is excellent. Director – Robert Galinsky
One can’t help but wish Lin Shaye could dispense with the script from which she intermittently reads.
While I understand the attraction of using original projections by the Joshua Light Show (Joshua White now with Marian Saunders) whose psychedelic visuals backed many popular bands in the late sixties, oozing amoebas and splats detract from strong narrative. If employed at all, they might be dimmed with a gel to keep focus on Shaye.
Sound design and original music (used as bridges) are varied and effective, though the latter too often overlaps dialogue.
Photos by Robert Galinsky
Tripping On Life
Written and Performed by Lin Shaye
Directed by Robert Galinsky
410 West 42nd Street