By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
Tonight a couple of visiting British actor/playwrights pitch their tents at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre for what is being billed as “British Invasion 2011.”
Kicking off the mini-festival of imported one- and two-actor shows will be Rebecca Vaughan performing her “I, Elizabeth,” based on the writings of Queen Elizabeth I, and Richard Fry’s “The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts,” an original piece written in rhyming couplets.
On Friday Vaughan and Fry return to perform two different shows — “Austen’s Women,” Vaughan’s piece based on the novels and letters of Jane Austen, and “Smiler,” Fry’s account of a brain-damaged friend who was struck by a drunken driver.
Vaughan performed in Kansas City last year as part of the first British invasion brought in by Bob Paisley’s Central Standard Theatre. But Fry is visiting for the first time. In fact, tonight’s performance marks his American debut.
In a telephone interview, Fry said he got to know Paisley first at last year’s fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, and again at the annual fringe earlier this year in Adelaide, Australia.
Fry, 39, said he writes his plays in verse in part because he is a frustrated songwriter, inspired by the singer/songwriters of the 1980s, including Elvis Costello.
“Their songs really meant something to me,” he said. “They could write these complete little stories in a three-minute song. I quickly discovered that I was rubbish on the guitar, but I had this massive folder of work.”
Fry said the two shows he’ll perform in Kansas City share a certain commonality — they’re one-actor pieces in which he plays more than one role — but they deal with different subject matter.
“ ‘Smiler’ is my fourth show that I’ve written,” he said. “It’s about my friend who got hit by a drunk driver when he was 18, and it’s about how he feels about his life now and our friendship and how difficult it is and how he deals with it on a daily basis.
“I wanted to show how people who live with a disability are essentially like the rest of us. They’re as funny and as interesting and as boring as the rest of us.”
“The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts” deals with a subject that Americans are more aware of than Britons, he said.
“It’s about young gay suicide,” he said. “I don’t want it to sound maudlin because it’s actually a celebration of life, and rather than do a whole hour on suicidal teenagers, it’s actually more of an inspirational piece. It really just explores how we can all make more of our lives and how, if we stop worrying about the smaller things, we can go on and achieve something important.”
He was moved to write the piece, he said, because nobody in the U.K. seemed to really be talking about teen suicide.
Vaughan’s solo and small-show work so far has been taken from literary sources. She crafted each of the shows she’ll perform in Kansas City from the written words of Jane Austen and Queen Elizabeth I.
“Obviously, Jane Austen and Elizabeth I had a lot to do with it,” she said. “I’m a collager, if you will. I’m very interested in taking something that already exists and making something new out of it.”
Vaughan and Fry will dominate the first weekend of the Brit invasion, which continues through Dec. 18.
They will perform “I, Elizabeth” and “The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts” in repertory at 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday; and “Austen’s Women” and “Smiler” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Performers slated to perform next week are Guy Masterson in three one-actor shows and, from the Blackout Theatre in Bedford, England, David Baxter and Elizabeth Thomas in “September in the Rain,” and Frank Spackman in Alan Bennett’s “A Chip in the Sugar.”
© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.