Undertaking a role in a month-long theatrical production is a serious decision. When that role requires playing 11 different people in a one-man show that includes storytelling, singing and dancing, that’s a big challenge.
Tony award-winner BD Wong takes that challenge in the rousing musical “Herringbone,” and he embodies different voices and characteristics in all 11 characters as easily as turning on a light switch. “Herringbone” runs now through Aug. 30 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
With three musicians mostly shadowed during the production, and BD Wong using minimal props such as a chair, trunk and a child’s suit on a blackened stage, the beginning of the play leaves one skeptical about the show. That assumption quickly disintegrates as Wong weaves magic into every minute he’s on stage.
The audience is first introduced to the narrator who alludes that he has a hard-to-believe tale to tell. The main character is George, a little boy who shows some talent while performing a school speech. His parents, Arthur and Louise, are barely hanging on in the Depression-era south, so when a vaudeville veteran convinces them he can make a star out of little George, they’re on board. George’s body is soon possessed by a host of characters as he becomes a proficient dancer.
Once the family makes it to Hollywood, George discovers that his main foe inside him is Lou. Older, wiser and lacking any of George’s naivete, Lou is mean and commanding but one heck of a dancer. Feeling somewhat like they sold their son to the devil, George’s parents are stuck. They face even more dread as George’s body - propelled by other personalities - gets involved in the murder of a vaudeville chicken impersonator and the struggles between a chicken and a frog.
BD Wong’s resourceful career has certainly prepared him for this arduous task. In addition to his Tony award for his performance in the Broadway hit “M. Butterfly,” his other awards include Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Theatre World awards. His Broadway credits comprise “Face Value,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Pacific Overtures.” TV fans may recognize him from his recurring role on “Law & Order: SVU,” HBO’s “Oz” or his films that include “Father of the Bride” (1 and 2) and “Seven Years in Tibet.”
“Herringbone” is Tom Cone’s 1975 play, which is rarely produced because of its intensity. The first half of the play is pure enchantment as director Roger Rees adeptly guides Wong through a metamorphosis of characters. Musicians Dan Lipton on piano, Benjamin Campbell on bass and Brad Briscoe on drums are backdrops for George’s tale.
The second act is somewhat darker as George deals with the characters that possess him. This includes a rather disconcerting scene in a hotel where young George is forced to be intimate with a woman.
“Herringbone” features a one-of-a-kind performance from Wong. What he lacks in a strong voice is compensated by his flair, gumption and pure genius in this virtuoso performance.
- Now - August 30
- Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre - La Jolla Playhouse
- 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
- (858) 550-1010