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Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma
photo Peter Nigrini
UPFRONT I WILL ADMIT TWO THINGS. ONE: I HAVE NEVER SEEN THE FILM RAMBO. TWO: I AM UNABASHEDLY A FAN OF THE NATURE THEATER OF OKLAHOMA, HAVING SEEN THEIR PRODUCTION NO DICE (RT89, P6) AT THE SYDNEY FESTIVAL IN JANUARY THIS YEAR.

So in some ways I come full of expectations, and in other ways with none at all. Rambo Solo is, as the title suggests, a solo show performed by Zachary Oberzan, conceived and directed by Pavel Liska and Kelly Copper, the directors of Nature Theater, in conversation with Oberzan. To describe the show is possibly to undermine the brilliance of its simplicity, but I will because, like good conceptual theatre, the stating of the idea goes nowhere near the experience of it. It is simply this: we the audience are invited individually into the theatre by Oberzan, who, wearing a dressing gown and ugg boot style slippers, leads us to a cushion on the carpeted floor.

When we are all seated, and he has changed into track pants and an old red T-shirt bearing the words “Putting the Man into Romance”, he ascends the stage, which is more like a sideways gangplank across the room, and the show begins. Behind him hangs a white sheet onto which are projected a triptych of video versions of Oberzan in his tiny New York apartment. All four Oberzans, though we only hear the live one, begin to narrate the story of Rambo or more correctly the plot of the novel, First Blood by David Morrell, on which the movie version of Rambo was based. This continues, following various sub-plots, right through to the bloody end.

Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma
photo Peter Nigrini
The video Oberzans, with various stages of facial hair growth, utilise locations within the apartment to flesh out the story. The bath serves as both a prisoner of war camp and cell; the loft bed, the top of a sheer cliff; a standard lamp next to a chair with the cord draped over his arm, a hospital. The live Oberzan gives us the story without props or set, except for a large bag of M&M’s, a bottle of water, a belt, and later a large Rambo style knife. He mirrors the actions of the video versions of himself, including some fairly feeble martial arts moves whenever he mentions that Rambo is a “green beret” or, more often, “fucking bad ass.”

To anyone who has suffered through a friend’s retelling of the plot of a novel or film in far too much detail—much like listening to the narrating of someone else’s dream—this might sound like an arduous night in the theatre. It is, however, quite the reverse.

As in No Dice, Rambo Solo uses the repetition of a recorded conversation, with all Oberzans wearing iPods. However this time, the only part of the conversation we hear is what we presume to be Oberzan’s, though it mostly takes the form of a monologue and there are recurring moments when Oberzan is silent, or ends his sentences with a question as though asking for confirmation that he is right. At the beginning he asks how much he should describe, “like as though you don’t know the plot?”, to which there is no audible answer. But towards the end of the show, when he asks “Hello?” as if to check he is still being listened to, the audience on the night I was there were so sucked in that they felt compelled to answer out loud, “Yes!”

Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma Zachary Oberzan, Rambo Solo, Nature Theater of Oklahoma
photo Peter Nigrini
The use of the video versions of Oberzan, filmed repetitions of him retelling the story, and the repeated iPod material, emphasise the plain storytelling nature of the piece but also undo notions of any stable reading. Equally, Oberzan’s particular delivery, more naturalistic than No Dice’s hyperbole, but similarly stilted, made me question whether he was doing a Stallone impersonation or that was his actual speaking voice. At one point, when talking about the film version of Rambo, he says, “I don’t know about acting anymore”, I too feel I don’t know about acting an more. Is he acting? Is he enacting himself—a man who has an unreal obsession with a trash novel, and a slightly frightening attitude to weapons and self-protection—or is this a knowing characterisation?

The line between authenticity and pretence keeps shifting, particularly when we learn that the trailer for a film, Flooding With Love For The Kid (Oberzan’s own adaptation for screen from the novel), shown at the end, is advertising a real film that Oberzan has made (in which he plays all the characters) and is selling in the foyer.

In one part of Rambo Solo, Oberzan calls First Blood his Hamlet. I feel like Nature Theater are my Shakespeare with their ability to find the poetic within the most everyday subject matter, to talk about theatre at the same time as making it, and to be so entertaining and funny in that faux amateur performance style, yet somehow tingeing it all with a sense of melancholy and despair. They are themselves, as Oberzan would say, “Fuckin Bad Ass.”


Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Rambo Solo, concept & direction Pavol Liska & Kelly Copper in conversation with performer Zachary Oberzan, design & video Peter Nigrini; Soho Rep, March 19-April 19

RealTime issue #91 June-July 2009 pg. 12

© Jane McKernan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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