The idea of developing, writing, and performing a play alone is enough to give most thespians the heebie-jeebies. But solo performers Frank Wortham and Charlie Varon wouldn't have it any other way -- until now, that is. Great Religions of America, written and performed by Wortham, developed with and directed by Varon, has the S.F. theater community abuzz as the two attempt to top their respective solo successes together. Varon, whose The People's Violin sold out the Marsh for six months last year, is making his directorial debut with Great Religions. Wortham's last show, House of Lucky, won the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle awards for best original script and best solo performance of 1999.
Great Religions, Wortham explains, is about "the different things our culture puts its faith in, among them sex, drugs, Satan, virgins, war, the law, and cold hard cash." When his longtime director left for graduate school last summer, Wortham made a list of people he wanted to work with. "Charlie was at the top," he says. Varon took convincing, though. "I told Frank, "I've never directed -- I don't know from lights!' But I'd seen House of Lucky and liked it, and felt the energy was right for this project."
On the surface, the two couldn't be more different. The fortysomething Varon's satirical work focuses on politics and Jewish identity, while 27-year-old Wortham writes irreverent coming-of-age stories and compares good theater to a wild rave. So what's the secret to their theatrical simpatico?
"Frank and I share ideas about what solo theater should be," Varon says. "And we ask the same questions passionately: What is it that compels an audience? How do you surprise them? It's fun to be working with someone else who has the same passion about these questions." And someone else who likes to go it alone.