Last weekend, I attended a local live performance at the Palace Theatre — a one-man show titled Halley’s Comet, both written and performed by John Amos. The drama is the latest enthusiastic performance in the downtown theater’s effort to preserve the arts — evident in the array of pieces that have been performed to date this semester. That being said, I feel the need to preface this article by revealing that I am not an avid theatre attendee and the assignment to review Halley’s Comet seemed somewhat daunting. However, as an English major, I trust I will not incur the wrath of the thespian community by treating the performance, in my assessment, in the same way I would any written play.
To be sure, the obvious enhancement of the drama is due to the acting power of John Amos. The piece seems unique to his resumé — Amos has for several decades taken part in television shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the mini-series, Roots. In his piece, Amos plays a relic of the Greatest Generation who arrives at a wood to witness and ‘converse’ with Halley’s Comet. Contextually, this is not the first time the character has seen the comet — referred to amiably as ‘Mr. Comet’ — but rather, it is his second time in 75 years.
The character came alive on the stage before me, melting away my bitterness both at the prospect of assessing this play and the eclectic mix of snow and wind that I had borne to be in the audience. The humor was both ironic and obvious, though sparing (appropriately so, to build suspense), and delivered in a way which made me favor the character immensely. Though he was perhaps not an embodiment of my own grandparents, the caricature of old age was a welcome and warm one.
Yet, this good-natured figure was tempered by many topics of a serious nature. A few include technology, environment, racial tensions (for both blacks and Native Americans) and child discipline. This dichotomy encouraged fluctuations in my enjoyment of the piece; at times, the premised story of a man encountering a past experience seemed a thin frame being obviously used for activist purposes — the character’s criticisms on humankind feel rehearsed. It is expected that he spends time comparing the quality of grass and unabashedly uses the term acid rain; at another point, he comments on the bane of fast-food and the challenge of weight; at another, greed and the Ba’al of money. Though admittedly, my aesthetic leans toward the subtle, it seemed some commentary was forced.
Yet at other times, I truly enjoyed the less emphasized themes of growth, endurance and loss. Extremely poignant was the character’s description of his daughter, Anne’s, participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Upon learning of her death during her activity in the South, he is presented with his daughter’s corpse only to find that she had been beaten and mangled by dogs. The moment is the culmination of an anecdote about Anne’s wonderful and wise character. She is described with so much detail I could almost feel her on stage in relation to her father. Indeed, in what seems to be a relapse into Alzheimer’s, he calls her name out into the empty stage.
Though I must weigh the charming belief that the comet of the piece acts, in a way, as a transcendent figure to the character, against its relation as such as a thin and papery presence, I enjoyed this opportunity to participate in the Palace’s dedication to the performing arts.