He, Himself, and Him

Performer K. Brian Neel is no schizo, but he's got multiple personalities.

Rubber-bodied performer K. Brian Neel is rehearsing more than a dozen different characters for his show PR1CK (which opens Thursday, March 13 at Re-bar, 206-325-6500). And, unlike a lot of what's being done in one-person pieces these days, none of them is based on the mother who never loved him. "I'm definitely not the stereotypical solo performer who's working through personal stories or therapy," he says. "My work is very character driven in kind of an exaggerated way." That would be an understatement. PR1CK, Neel's fourth solo work, concerns an author of fantasy novels who finds himself with no money and even less inspiration. When he decides to rent out rooms to strange people as a means of solving both problems, the writer sees his bookand his own existencebecome irrevocably entwined with some genuine nutcases, including a meek obsessive who prefers sleeping under the bathroom sink. And that's not even going into the Tolkien-ish denizens of the writer's imagined Werndoald, a land of creatures with names like "Zolfirce the Deev." It's got to be hard to keep it all straight. When director Andy Jensen stops him to fine-tune a detail, Neel responds, "You really . . . uh . . . uh . . . ," but trails off, staring at the spot where he just left his character a moment ago. Jensen waits, but Neel never finishes the thoughtyou can tell he's too busy re-creating something in his mind, considering all its specifics. Specifics are what make or break Neel. The artistic conceit of morphing through so many oddballs gets a little thick here and there, but the ambitious particulars behind it have always made his multi-character shows compelling, anyway. Aside from the workshop of PR1CK staged at Empty Space some months ago, Neel's last solo bow was a remounting of his Double Climax, a noirish mystery he'd originally written as a screenplay. He performed each character, each planned cut, each change of locale himself. It was a sometimes muddy attempthis voice could use more variations, and he hasn't perfected women yetbut a singular one, every bit a staged movie, with moments of terrific ingenuity, including a one-man murder scene featuring quick cuts between victim and perpetrator. He says he began taking on such challenges out of necessity. He'd ditched his theater scholarship to the University of New Mexico after two years and begun touring with the then-Albuquerque-based comedy troupe King's Elephant (which moved to Seattle and included another local original, Kevin Kent of Teatro ZinZanni). But nothing much was happening, and Neel broke out on his own, using his improv experience to make his own pieces. "[I had] sort of this realization," he recalls. "'I can create material. I've been doing it for 10 years.' So it was more of an accident." The work now, of course, is more intentional, the result of much rethinking, reshuffling, and just general re-creation. "We get in, and we jam a little bit," says Neel of his work on PR1CK with director Jensen. "I improvise and write simultaneously through the week, and then I bring a director in to sort of give a perspective on the greater whole. So Andy comes in and says, 'This is lovely, but it needs to have a connection here' or 'This through line is never re-established, so get rid of that.'" Does the effort of being so alone with so many people to create ever become exhausting? "You reach a point where it becomes very Zen," Neel answers. "Once you know the piece well enough, and you've done it enough to where you kind of know where the ebbs and flows are, you can really play it. It's like any physical activity: When you first start running, it's just a bitch, it's just hard as hell. But then you reach a point where you kind of get into that pace, you know, and your blood's pumping, and it becomes very natural." Neel does other work outside of his one-man successeshe's acted in full-cast shows, and directed an elegant production of The Erotica Project a couple of seasons agobut he recognizes that the solo label is tagging along behind him. "I hope I don't become the 'solo performer in a play,'" he admits. "Because I notice when I'm cast in another show, there is a level of, maybe, fear from other actors, like, 'Oh, it's going to be The Brian Show. He's gonna be in his own little world.'" Maybe, but if his past work is any indication, it's a world that everyone is invited to experience. swiecking@seattleweekly.com

 
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