History, Brits and Yanks: The art of the monologue

The Kansas City Star

Guy Masterson holds dual citizenship in both this country and the United Kingdom, and his performances are an intriguing mix of American and British sensibilities.

To grossly oversimplify, he writes like a Brit and performs like a Yank. That unique mating of the cerebral and the physical makes Masterson ideal to perform “American Poodle,” a pairing of two short satirical solo plays that contrasts a British view of American history with an arrogant American view of contemporary England.

Masterson performed the show Friday night at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre as part of “British Invasion 2011.”

Masterson wrote “Snowball,” the first half of the piece, in which a Brit offers his view of the colonization of North America and the founding of this country. Masterson weaves together complex history with caustic humor that seeks to explode some of our favorite myths about the founding of the country.

Guy Masterson in “American Poodle”                              (Theatre Tours International)

Masterson’s performances are volatile, as though he’ll burst out of his skin at any moment. He delivers his monologues the aggressive rapidity an anti-aircraft gun. The upside is that there are no dead spots. Every moment counts as Masterson pulls you along at a breakneck pace. The downside is your inability to fully absorb the information he throws at you.

The second half of the piece is “Splayfoot” by Bryan Parks, in which an American businessman arrives in London on his first trip to the UK. As he explores the city he never really understands what he’s actually seeing because everything is filtered through his chauvinistic lens. One of the funniest segments considers the contrast between British shoppers and their American counterparts in terms of escalator etiquette. American backsides receive close attention.

The evening opened with a very different solo performance — Frank Spackman of the Blackout Theatre in Bedford, England, acting Alan Bennett’s “A Chip in the Sugar.” Spackman’s approach employs nuanced understatement, allowing Bennett’s language to deliver the laughs.

Frank Spackman in “A Chip in the Sugar”  (Central Standard Theatre

It’s a funny but poignant piece in its depiction of middle-aged Graham Whitaker, a tentative fellow who still lives with his 72-year old mother. Their life together is comfortable and predictable. That changes when she encounters Frank Turnbull, an old flame she hasn’t seen for decades.

The more persuasively Frank woos his mom, the more unsettled Graham becomes. Eventually Graham discovers that Turnbull has a secret and the revelation brings the old-age romance to an abrupt halt. Spackman’s timing wasn’t what it needed to be at the Friday performance but his handling of the language was unaffected and engrossing.

Read more theater news at kansascity.com.

© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved

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