You see lots of experiments and new ideas at the Fringe Festival. Then — surprise –you see a masterfully finished work.
In Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, Colin Mitchell displays his comfortable command of the one-man show.
As playwright, Mitchell has crafted a virtuoso piece, demanding a full range of acting skills — as well as some extras, such as deftly footing a soccer ball. As actor, he meets the challenges steadily, from welcoming unexpected guests (after a hint of paranoia) to gruffly routing eavesdroppers, from acting out a harrowing, bloody tale to holding us in a full minute of stunned silence afterward.
In a small cottage in rural Scotland, we surprise Arden as he’s about to make his morning ablutions. He adjusts quickly, bidding us share
a dram to mark his 50th birthday. Checking at times to see if we’re real, and if we’d like another, he launches into his story.
It begins in San Francisco, as a smallish, smart boy at loose ends finds his way to the Tenderloin bars. Using his wits and a foolish courage, he becomes a drug runner. Then, after years of “gratifying all the lusts ,” he loses his appetite and absconds to Scotland — with a stash of other people’s money.
There he finds an idyllic home among plain people who “don’t talk about it outside church,” but live their Christianity. Then, alas, his past comes calling.
The piece was inspired by a Van Morrison song, which just barely sketched the story. At the end of our hour together, Arden sings the first verse or two, wondering how the songwriter heard of him. Morrison’s song, we realize, left out most of what Mitchell has filled in, as a writer and especially as a living, breathing person. Yet he still gives us only what we need — enough to feel a bitter divide between what we imagine as success and the true price of “winning.”
In the hour, Mitchell’s Arden takes us through a remarkable range of moods and manners — amiable chatting, abrasive touchiness, soft reminiscing, wry wit, subtle manipulation, the full-chested shouting of battle, dumb grief, and spiritual exhaustion. At its end, we know we’ve met a character we won’t soon forget. And we’ve had the privilege of being with an artist at the top of his form.
This solo piece first saw light in San Francisco 20 years ago, and was last staged in LA before 2000. Don’t let another 15 years go by.
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, written and performed by Colin Mitchell, directed by Christian Levatino. At Theatre Asylum (Elephant Studio), 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.
Sunday June 22 at 7:00 pm, Friday June 27 at 10:00 pm.