Zachary Oberzan in Rambo Solo
(© Simon Friedmann)
Zachary Oberzan in Rambo Solo
(© Simon Friedmann)
The Sylvester Stallone blockbuster First Blood is the inspiration for the bizarre and often hilarious new work from innovative performance company Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Rambo Solo, now at Soho Rep. Conceived and directed by NTO founders Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, in collaboration with actor Zachary Oberzan, it is unlike any one-person-show that I've ever encountered.

In the piece, Oberzan discusses his obsession with First Blood, which started when he was 10 or 11 and saw the movie on HBO. He soon purchased the David Morrell novel on which it was based, and has since re-read the book numerous times. As the show progresses, Oberzan gives an account of the novel's plot, going on tangents and occasionally marking how it differs from the movie. "Prisoners of war probably don't come out, you know, looking -- looking like Stallone," he says.

The verbal text for the piece is derived from a recorded phone conversation that Liska conducted with Oberzan, and which is fed to the actor via iPod -- a trick that NTO perfected in its last outing with Soho Rep, the critically acclaimed No Dice. For the live performance, Oberzan affects a mode of speaking that is reminiscent of Stallone but not an exact mimicry. He also follows the vocal pattern of that original call, complete with ums and ahs, as well as pauses for either reflection or merely to wait for the person at the other end of the conversation to stop speaking.

Peter Nigrini, who is credited with design and video, has altered Soho Rep's usual playing area, with most audience members now seated on cushions on the floor, facing a long narrow elevated platform on which Oberzan performs. Behind the actor, white sheets are draped across the stage, onto which are projected three different, synched up videos of Oberzan in his apartment, performing the exact same text he's delivering to the audience in the theater. At times, the live performer will do the same gesture that one or more of his video counterparts is doing, but its equally and perhaps even more compelling when there are subtle differences.

Oberzan is an engaging and likable performer, and he provides an energetic retelling of the story of John Rambo, complete with mock fight sequences. Although the content and pacing of the actor's text is clearly set, he'll occasionally break into a smile or non-verbally acknowledge how people are responding to certain segments of the show. There's even a bit of audience participation.

As with No Dice -- which revealed the poetry within the most banal, everyday conversations -- Rambo Solo walks a fine line between parody and sincerity. While the show contains plenty of humor, Oberzan presents an intelligent and insightful case, and you just may leave the theater agreeing that there really is far more to the story of First Blood than you ever thought possible.