Chicago-based playwright Douglas Post’s “Bloodshot” is billed as a one-man show, but it has such a richly layered, brilliantly serpentine plot, and a cast of so many unforgettably conjured characters — brought to life through the wholly astonishing sleight-of-hand of veteran British actor Simon Slater — that you might very well leave the theater convinced you’ve seen a full ensemble of actors at work.
A tour de force of writing and acting, “Bloodshot” is the latest entry in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s Solo Celebration. And it is just one of the many solo projects that have increasingly become part of the mix here in recent seasons, and that serve as a reminder of how fascinating this “loneliness of the long-distance runner” art form can be.
A meditation on perception and photography, desperation and corruption, the art of performance and the craft of criminality, “Bloodshot” — a hit in London that is receiving its U.S. premiere here — also probes the nature of typewriters and handwriting, the art of the magician, the piercing moodiness of jazz, the pernicious nature of jealousy, the thirst for alcohol, the poison of racism, the many guises of the outsider, and the quest for revenge and freedom.
The play possesses all the elements of a psychological thriller, yet it transcends that classic genre with its hipster vibe as it leads us through the post-war London of the 1950s and early ’60s — the parks, the tattered immigrant neighborhoods, the entertainment scene, the brutalist industrial zones, the police stations — all by way of the vaguely voyeuristic sensibility of a photographer in the mode of New York’s fabled Weegee.
When: Through Sept. 10
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center,
2257 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 404-7336;
Run time: 2 hours with
Derek Eveleigh (Slater) is a self-taught photographer who spent the first part of his life working as a cop who, during the London blitz, took photos of the mutilated casualties of those bombings. Later, for a brief, happy period, he also worked for a tabloid magazine where he earned praise for his streetwise pictures. Now, he’s a lonely man in middle age, financially strapped and heavily dependent on alcohol, when a strange thing happens.
A letter is jettisoned into the mail slot of his rathole of a basement apartment with an offer, and a most welcome cash incentive: A man with a fanciful name wants him to covertly follow and photograph a beautiful, quietly elegant “Negro woman” from the West Indies by the name of Cassandra, and deposit the photos at an agreed-upon site each week. It is an offer Derek cannot and does not refuse, but it is not long before the woman is murdered. (Anything more I will not divulge here.)
What can be said is that, riddled with guilt for whatever part he may or may not have played in her death, Derek is hellbent on discovering and pursuing the woman’s killer. As it happens, she worked as a magician’s assistant in a fancy club. And Slater, with uncanny brilliance, not only portrays the slyly charming Russian impresario and magician who owns the club with panache — along the way showing off a bit of perfectly accented Russian, and expertly performing a slew of tricks (including a gobsmacking routine involving swallowing and regurgitating razor blades). But he also gives us a high-spirited Irish music hall comedian whose stand-up routine is full of raunchy innuendo and songs self-accompanied on a beloved ukelele he has named Ursula. And he captures the spirit of an American expat sax player who knows his moody jazz riffs are soon to be eclipsed by rock ‘n’ roll.
Post’s writing is sharp, poetic and period-perfect. And the flawless clarity of Slater’s characterizations — in a sweaty, meticulous performance that is as physically impressive as it is emotionally spot-on — is in perfect sync with the script’s seamless, compelling storytelling. Director Patrick Sandford has deftly orchestrated all the rest, with superb (if uncredited) projections (whoever posed as Cassandra deserves a program credit for her mysterious allure), lighting by David W. Kidd, a spare but effective set by Agnes Dewhurst, sound by Rob Jones and original music by Slater.
Those seeking a late summer theatrical seduction are strongly advised to head to “Bloodshot.” It is nothing short of irresistible.
Note: The Greenhouse’s eight-month, 12-play Solo Celebration will continue with “Rose” (subtitled “The Kennedy Story as Told By the Woman Who Lived It All”). Running Aug. 19 – Sept. 25 (on a different stage in the multiplex), the show, written by Laurence Leamer (and based on 40 hours of recorded interviews between matriarch Rose Kennedy and Robert Coughlin), will be performed by Linda Reiter and directed by Steve Scott.