Things are bigger in Texas, and people live life a little slower. Maybe they just need more time to take it all in, since there's so much of it.
Zero, an import from Dallas (it has also played in Chicago), reflects something of that vast Lone Star spirit. For a one-man play, it's bigger than a lot of what we're used to here in frenetic New York City. Parts of it go a shade or two too slow for my caffeinated heart to beat to. The twenty-somethings whom Danny O'Connor brings to life on stage spend their days sloshed in beer, tequila, and Jagermeister instead of coffee and protein shakes.
There's no denying the craft, stamina, and supersized ambition of the play's primary power source. O'Connor, on stage by his Lone Star lonesome for over two hours, plays six different characters, sometimes three at a time, while working through two separate storylines. All of them are precisely eight years out of high school, but he defines them with easy changes in accent, demeanor, and posture, loading each with personality in the process. Yet O'Connor sketches in their details just enough to make us want to know more about them; we'd like to see deeper into them than their war stories, their obsession with a high school flame, their drinking to excess.
The occasion for the main storyline is the return of Alex, one of the high school buddies, from the Iraq War. Alex reflects the play's origin: O'Connor and his brother Robert collaborated on the script long-distance during the latter's service in Iraq. Then, after his second tour, Robert committed suicide.
That grim backstory doesn't make the play a downer, though. To the contrary, it's pretty jolly, especially considering its protagonists' inability to achieve satisfaction, the low-level sadness underlining their lives. They are all, in various ways, the "zeros" of the title, although only boisterous Sam, the group's "good ole boy," refers to himself that way. "High school's with us forever, dude," he tells his actor pal Len, who has quit trying to make a career of what he loves.
Sam, despite being something of a caricature, is the best fleshed out of the three drinking buddies. Eternally trapped in sarcasm, he waxes philosophical: "Some people just aren't meant to follow their dreams." Yet in context, his bittersweet bluster is more humorous than sad, and that's a good thing, because the play's funny lines and body language and the intermittent outrageousness are what keep things moving as well as they do.
It's in the scenes where Sam, Len, and Alex get together that the action slows. O'Connor plays all three parts nimbly, but a lack of crispness in the dialogue bogs us down. By contrast, he transports us in high style when he's "by himself" – in the wordless opening, when Len wakes up from a humongous hangover and tries sourly to get the day going with a lot of help from a bottle of water and a toilet; in the monologues from James and Gabe, a preening metrosexual and a sad sack, whose planned night out constitutes the secondary storyline; in the hysterically pretentious performance piece by "Malthazar," who cracks us up even as we realize that his kind is a pretty easy target.
Zero is an impressive performance, and an enjoyable evening out, but one that would be more enjoyable if it were trimmed or tightened. Look out for Danny O'Connor; this fine, Texas-sized actor and monologist is a darn sight more than the sum of his "zero" parts.
At the Roy Arias Theatre 2, 616 Ninth Ave. at 44th St., NYC, through Dec. 30. For tickets please visit Theatermania or call 866-811-4111. For more information visit the Zero website.