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Allen takes one-man `House' to new levels

Riverside Ensemble puts on captivating, surreal play

The Riverside Ensemble has done it again with "House," a one-man show performed by Riverside Theatre actor Shenoah Allen, who is passionate, subtle, hilarious and profound in the role of Victor.

The play, written by Canadian playwright Danial MacIvor, won the 1991 Chalmers Canadian Play Award. It is a great piece of writing: lyrical, surreal and full of vivid images, and Allen's rendering of the work takes it to a new level of profundity. Though the script is contemporary, the Riverside's imaginative staging and Allen's stunning talent give the show a mystical intensity during its opening-night performance Friday.

Structurally, "House" is simple. Funny and poignant throughout, the play consists of Victor telling stories to the audience. He begins the play by saying hello and he thanks everyone for coming.

It is quickly apparent that Victor is not a victor. He speaks with the humility of a broken man and, now and then, takes a seat next to someone in the audience and speaks directly to them.

The stories from Victor's life are interspersed with fable-like interludes, in which Allen reads from a thick book that hangs from the ceiling. In the Riverside version, the actor operates the lighting board, which increases his seemingly magical powers.

Victor is a likeable casualty of contemporary society. He's a good man who never could stand up for himself. His father ran away with the circus long ago and now makes his living sitting in a booth as "the saddest man in the world." One of the climactic moments in the performance is when Victor goes to the circus and pays $2 to look at his father.

As everyone who has seen Allen and Mark Chavez's Burning Cities New Works Company perform its hit comedy "Sabotage" knows, Allen is an actor who can create a world around him using nothing but voice, gestures and facial expressions. But "House" is a new step for Allen artistically.

"I've never done a one-man show before," Allen said. "I've never done theater in the round before; I've never sat next to someone in the audience and talked to them like that."

Allen heard about MacIvor when he was touring "Sabotage" in Canada.

"All across Canada people were like, `Daniel MacIvor, Daniel MacIvor,'" Allen said. "He's supposed to be such a great performer. He performs all his own works first."

Allen met MacIvor last year in a bar in Canada. The program for "House" thanks MacIvor for "writing the play and for not coming to see `Sabotage' when I asked him to ."

The program credits all Riverside Ensemble members, along with Chavez, as directors of the play. Joe Pesce, the Riverside artistic director, said Allen did most of it himself. Pesce said occasionally someone stopped in, saw what Allen was doing and offered suggestions.

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The result is awesome. But if you go, be warned: The experience of seeing it just might change the way you see the world.

The play runs at the Riverside Theatre at 112 Washington St. S.E., March 30, 31, April 1 and 6-8. All showtimes are at 8 p.m. Call 254-8393 for ticket information.

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