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Call him Luke-Chewy Han Vader

How does Canadian actor Charles Ross manage to play all the characters in the Star Wars trilogy in just 65 minutes? By using the Force, of course.

By JOHN FLEMING
Published October 30, 2005


  photo
[AP photo]
Canadian actor Charles Ross stars in The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, portraying all the Star Wars characters himself and providing his own sound effects for the light sabers and spaceships.

Charles Ross knows how to take advantage of a misspent youth.

As an 8-year-old, living on a farm in Canada, Ross had a lot of time on his hands. The television reception was lousy, and his family had only two tapes to play in the VCR: the Richard Chamberlain miniseries Shogun and Star Wars.

Ross wasn't crazy about Shogun, so he watched Star Wars over and over, "an absurd amount of times," he said.

That's putting it mildly. He watched Star Wars morning, afternoon and night. More than 400 times in all.

"You could say that I know it backward and forward," said Ross, 31.

Years later, as an actor, he came up with the idea of turning that "giant waste of time I spent as a kid" into something positive and created The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy.

"Basically," he said, "the concept is, let's say I have only an hour to tell you the whole complex tale of Star Wars: How would I do it?"

Dorky? To be sure, but Ross' obsession with Yoda, Wookiees, Chewbacca and everything else in George Lucas' science fiction saga has an audience. His solo show is a hit at an off-Broadway theater in New York, where it opened in August and has been extended through New Year's Eve. He takes this week off from that engagement to do eight shows at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Not just fans make up the audience for Ross' theatrical treatment of Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).

"You'd be surprised," he said. "I think it's sort of a false belief that there's nothing but frothing Star Wars fans there. I certainly do have nights when there is a high percentage of fans and I'm preaching to the already converted. But a lot of times, it's people who have never seen Star Wars or have only been casual fans of the films."

The mass appeal of Star Wars translates into strong impulse ticket buys to the show. "It's almost like the McDonald's of theater, in a sense, because it's something that people are familiar with," Ross said. "It's not that huge of a risk. We have a lot of day-of sales."

His ideal audience consists of diehard enthusiasts like members of the 501st Legion, who dress up as storm troopers and other characters and will be providing "security" for the Tampa shows. Timothy Zahn, author of The Thrawn Trilogy and other Star Wars novelizations, will be a special guest on Tuesday night.

In April, Ross performed for a Star Wars convention in Indianapolis. "If there was ever a target demographic I was aiming for, this was sort of the dream gig," he said. "It was almost like a religious revival."

Ross, dressed in a black jumpsuit and using a face mike, plays the characters and mimics the sound effects and music. Enacting everything from light-saber duels to R2-D2's whistles, he doesn't take Star Wars too seriously.

"I'm obviously coming from a place of admiration and genuine love for the story," he said. "But there are certain parts of the films that are mockable."

For example, he makes fun of the supposed revelation that Luke and Leia are brother and sister. Then there's the dubious credibility of Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness. "He talks about how the character of Darth Vader had murdered Luke's father way back when, and it's a complete lie. I don't let that lie pass when I say those lines in the show," Ross said.

Even though The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is only 65 minutes, Ross gets a workout. "It sounds like a light load, but try doing the show. I flip and flop all over the stage," he said.

Ross, who started performing the show as a 20-minute comedy sketch in Toronto in 2001, is not a maniacal collector of Star Wars merchandise. In his New York dressing room, he has only a C-3PO doll and Darth Tater (a Mr. Potato Head spinoff).

Like many Star Wars fans, he is lukewarm about the second trio of movies. "Of the new films, Revenge of the Sith is probably the most successful, in that it was closer to the spirit of the first films."

Ross can imagine a solo show being made from the later trilogy, but probably not by him. "It doesn't interest me in the same way," he said.

Besides, he has another show inspired by a fantasy classic: The One-Man Lord of the Rings.

John Fleming can be reached at 727 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com PREVIEW The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy opens Tuesday and runs through Nov. 6 in the Jaeb Theater of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa. $21.50. Call 813 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; www.tbpac.org

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 15:14:02]


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