LA actor performs 38 parts in The Thousandth Night
By HANS IBOLD
Express Staff Writer
In "The Thousandth Night," Los Angles-based actor Ron
Campbell peoples the stage with a vast cast of charactersincluding, but not limited
to, a French actor on the run from the Gestapo, a hunchback dwarf, Aladdin and Ali Baba.
Company of Fools brings the award-winning tour de force to the stage of
the Liberty Theater Dec. 28-30 at 8 p.m.
Written for Campbell by historian and playwright Carol Wolf, "The
Thousandth Night" is about a French cabaret actor named Guy de Bonheur who is
ensnared by French gendarmes during the German occupation of Paris in 1943.
The Jewish actors in de Bonheurs troupe have been arrested for
"subversive work," and de Bonheurs own escape fails when the train he is
riding breaks down outside of Paris.
Always the jester, de Bonheur persuades the gendarmes to let him act
out scenes from his former troupes production of "The Arabian Nights."
Whether he succeeds in escaping to Paris or joins the train lurching to
a labor camp is somewhat ambiguous and changes from performance to performance.
Thats because Wolfs play is presented without a fourth
wall. The audience is brought into the action, playing the part of the gendarmes.
"There is a ray of hope in the writing that people latch onto in
all kinds of ways," Campbell said in a telephone interview from San Diego.
"There are a thousand tales of survival, heroism and courage that have come out of
the great conflicts of humanity, and this is just one of them. But its unusual in
that de Bonheur is using his imagination as a weapon."
That facet of his character clearly intrigues Campbell, who has been
acting for a living for some 20 years. The recipient of 13 Drama-Logue Awards, Campbell
made his living as a street performer in Europe before becoming a founding member of the
Actors Gang in Los Angeles.
The use of the imagination as a weapon also appealed to Company of
Fools managing director Denise Simone.
"Its very much a play about the fool, who for us is often
the bearer of truth, even if the truth is disguised in comedy," Simone said.
Its not just the fools cajoling, however, that caught
"The Thousandth Night reflects our mission to present
works that depict the human heart in conflict with itself," she said. "We wanted
a show that made a statement about the millennium, and it occurred to us that the seminal
event of this century was probably the Holocaust. So its a comedy, but a comedy with
Simone and Company of Fools artistic director Rusty Wilson also liked
the actor-audience interaction that happens in the play.
"We loved the way [Campbell] endowed the audience with a role, and
the immediacy of that relationship," Simone said. "Its going to make his
performance change nightly, minute by minute. Hell reinvent the show every
While he assured that he "wont be sitting in anyones
lap," Campbell also said he revels in the sense of community that theater provides.
"Any movie or TV show that you see took place in the past,"
Campbell said urgently. "Its only in the theater where the event takes place in
that moment, where were in same the room, breathing the same air and spending the
evening together, hopefully in occupied Paris."
It takes a fit of athleticism to take audiences to Paris and to
introduce the 38 characters.
"Its a process of twisting myself inside and out,"
Campbell said. "You start to find systems that give the characters distinction."
One of those systems that has worked for Campbell is figuring out how
each character would hold his or her chin. The position of the chin is emblematic of the
kind of personality they have, Campbell said.
"The Thousandth Night" premiered at the Grove Shakespeare
Festival in 1993, where it won a Los Angeles Circle Award and two Robbie Award
The Los Angeles Times called it "an unusual piece of
writing, with its flashes of ribald humor and its moments of bitterness, but at the end,
its total effect is astonishing."
Since then, the play has taken Campbell around the world, from Tel Aviv
Tickets for the Dec. 28, 29 and 30 shows are $15 general admission and
$10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at Chapter One in Ketchum and Read All
About It in Hailey. The play is appropriate for ages 11 and up. For more information, call