Off-Broadway Babble-on

C.S. Hanson: Charles Winn Speaks
Directed by Lynn M. Thomson
Cherry Lane Studio Theater

In Charles Winn Speaks, actor Christopher Kipiniak certainly speaks and speaks and speaks. The play consists of four acts, played with no intermission: two long monologs, followed a scene with another character, followed by a brief concluding monolog. In short, Charles Winn does a whole lotta speaking, and for the most part, engagingly so.

Christopher Kipiniak rattles on as Charles Winn, mostly solo for a full ninety minutes in his authentic Russian accent. Classic film aficionados would know this accent from the Russian actor Mischa Auer, who played supporting roles in films which ranged from Hellzapoppin' to Destry Rides Again. When he would appear on the screen, I would endure his grating voice until the stars of the film took over (luckily he was never the star). When it was apparent while sitting in the Cherry Lane Studio Theater that I would be hearing a great deal of what I consider the most unsonorous of accents, I descended into a state of mild dread. Thank goodness that Kipiniak possesses a broader range of acting and comic ability that Mr. Auer, so after a time, I began to just enjoy his hyper-energetic display as the character pines for an unattainable love, extracts himself from one attained, volleys peculiarly with a female acquaintance, and finally settles down with the "right" partner.

The Charles Winn character is a Russian immigrant with a poor-boy-from-elsewhere-makes-good story. He becomes a hotshot with hedge funds and considers himself a supreme catch, later a supreme idiot, and finally supremely lucky.

In the first extended monolog, the jilted Charles is frantically attempting to create a video response to Phoebe, whom he has dated, and from whom he has received a final rejection letter. He is recording himself with a video camera, and we see him testing out a wide range of ploys and approaches to get Phoebe back.

The second monolog takes place two-and-a-half years later, as Charles goes through similar motions to extract himself from a marriage to the "wrong woman." First he attempts to write a letter, then he tries video again. His ever-expanding litany of his wife's detriments paints an extremely vivid picture of a shallow woman, whom he apparently married "because she was there" as a neighbor in his building (and possessed outstanding legs). After Charles tries out a wrenching number of alternatives and variations at communicating, he finally concludes he wants a divorce.

Towards the end of the second monolog I was getting claustrophobic: nothing but Charles, Charles, Charles! I was reminded of the I Love Lucy episode wherein Lucy and Ethel are trapped somewhere alone for an extended time. At one point Lucy stares blankly at Ethel for moment and blurts out "Ethel, it's nothing personal but -- I'm sick of the sight of your face!" Luckily relief was on its way.

Act three finds the protagonist about a year-and-a-half later in a Stockholm hotel room. Pricilla, a friend of his former wife, who happens to be in Sweden, visits soliciting a contribution to a preservation project. An atmosphere of relaxation filled the theater. We had been sprung from monolog-ville! The comic scene between Charles and Pricilla is riotously funny. The scene ends with a revelatory moment that leads to the brief and quietly reflective fourth Act.

Christopher Kipiniak gives his manic all to his portrayal of Charles. The energy he expended during his performance warrants him time in an awaiting hyperbaric chamber! As Pricilla, Lindsey Gates showed herself to be a fine comedienne.

Charles Winn Speaks was a rollicking, albeit at times exasperating, theatrical experience.  Jay Reisberg

This production has closed.

Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre, and bon vivant at large.

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