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Open: 03/19/09- Close: 04/21/09 Rambo Solo
Reviewed for By: Lauren Wissot

I have seen the theater future and its name is Rambo – or more accurately, one fearless thespian named Zachary Oberzan who’s got the right combination of mesmerizing lunacy and sheer cojones to guide an audience through the entire plot of “First Blood” in his Manhattan studio apartment then transport the journey to the live stage of Soho Rep. “Rambo Solo” comes courtesy of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, whose co-directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper conceived the piece out of Oberzan’s passion (which began not with the Stallone franchise, but with David Morrell’s book about a decorated and disturbed Vietnam vet whose clash with a small town sheriff leads to a cat-and-mouse chase with the law).

Simon Friedmann ©2021  Zachary Oberzan as Rambo

“Rambo in the movie is much more sympathetic,” Oberzan states early on, lamenting that Stallone’s former POW throws a rock at a helicopter pilot rather than shoot him. “Most prisoners of war don’t come out looking like Stallone,” he notes then later adds, “Stallone just makes a circus out of true art.” Like a good critic Oberzan (shaped by Liska and Copper) is not content to simply enthuse about a piece of art, but delivers details and keen observations; not only brings to life his addictive obsession, but deconstructs it down to its essence.

Not to mention “Rambo Solo” is nearly critic-proof. After all, how do you “review” someone who’s invited you into his home for an evening of extremely animated storytelling? As Broadway and Hollywood interweave in an event-centric fashion, indie film and theater smartly seem to be getting more personal. After the audience “checks in” in lieu of ticketing, has been led through the backstage dressing room and up some fairly steep stairs, we arrive to grab a pillow (and perhaps blanket) to sit on brown shag carpeting in a black box space. Then all must wait for the last stragglers to show up before Oberzan stops making sure everyone is comfortable and finally takes the stage.

Simon Friedmann ©2021  Zachary Oberzan as Rambo

Or rather four versions of Oberzan take the stage. That would be two bearded versions and one moustache-clad, all wearing glasses and T-shirts reading, “I put the man in romance,” across three screens. They compete with the clean-shaven, non-bespectacled, live Oberzan in a plain red shirt down front. The video Oberzans silently reenact torture scenes in the shower, tree-climb up a ladder attached to a loft bed, and run to the edge of a forest under the cliff of a computer desk. They do dishes during a rainstorm, pull themselves through thorns beneath a futon, and nearly surrender their rifles (clothes hangers) from an underground mine (closet), while the in-person Oberzan serves as the prop-less narrator. The timing of the live actor’s beats and gestures, right down to the scratching of an arm, is in near-perfect sync with his images. Yet the piece has an anything-can-happen, improv feel. Oberzan’s sweet, Chris Farley-like, stop-and-start patter (“Oh wait, there’s a really good line before they start shooting!”) allows him to toss out bon mots like, “This part of the book always seemed a bit weird to me. Because Rambo should know that running naked through the woods screaming obscenities would bring out the hillbillies,” with a straight face.

“I could have dug a hole, taken a shit, and covered it,” Oberzan says, fondly recalling one of his favorite “First Blood” lines. “I like to use that as a metaphor in my life – whenever I can,” he earnestly adds. By the time Oberzan offers some audience members soda and chips then undresses for bed, the metaphor is complete. When artists think of doing no-budget indies, they usually think “small personal story set in one location.” Oberzan’s small personal story just happens to involve a larger than life icon confined to 220 square feet.

Soho Rep Mainstage : 46 Walker St