Memorial Hall's 'One Man Stranger Things' may be stranger than 'Stranger Things'

Charles Ross brings his solo theatrical version of the Netflix sci-fi series to Cincinnati on Thursday.

Jul 2, 2018 at 2:45 pm
click to enlarge Charles Ross on stage - PHOTO: Provided
PHOTO: Provided
Charles Ross on stage

Born in 1974, Charles Ross grew up in the same (maybe not so) idyllic rose-hued suburban landscape in which the kids in the Netflix hit Stranger Things find themselves. Minus the demogorgons.

So it’s fitting that the Canadian-based actor would take it upon himself to perform the entire series solo in his One Man Stranger Things show.

The Netflix original is set in Indiana in 1983; essentially, it’s a callback to a Steven Spielberg-brand of science fiction that mixes the fantastical with keen observations of small-town and suburban life (e.g. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.). When 12-year-old Will goes missing, his mother, Joyce, searches for him, and the supernatural underbelly of the town begins to unravel. An adjacent X-Files-esque plotline explores secret (and unethical) government experiments on kids.

Ross has previously created and performed one-man shows, dipping into the geek-infused universes of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. A One Man Stranger Things seemed like a natural fit for his next endeavor. Though the show is a parody, it’s also meant to act as homage. Ross pokes fun, but he does so with an evident fondness. On Thursday at 8 p.m., he’ll perform his own reworked, reduced script at Over-the-Rhine’s Memorial Hall, taking on the role of each character in Stranger Things.

“It really is written from my kind of perspective,” Ross says in a phone interview. “It’s so derivative of so many things that I loved. I lived in a small town. I just think that in its hugely imaginative world, (it’s what) you wish your little small town could be. It just makes sense.”

Ross adds that the fantasy worlds of Spielberg, Stephen King and George Lucas, which influenced Stranger Things, also inspire him.

His nostalgia-laced memories of childhood mirror the world which the kids — Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Will and Mike — inhabit in Stranger Things. A native of British Columbia, he recalls riding around his childhood suburban block on his bike, joined by a fleet of pals.

In the series, scenes of the kids riding around are swollen with ’80s New Wave tracks, like the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You,” while the sky is awash in purplish hues that signify both teenage emotions running rampant and the presence of a weird alternate universe called the Upside Down. Onstage, Ross communicates such supernatural elements solely through imagination, switching back and forth between speaking and exaggerated body comedy. At times, he even vocalizes sound effects.

As a boy, he would dream of the kind of places that exist in Stranger Things, like the Upside Down. So he loves the way the series elevates its setting, a sleepy town, into something magical for a kid. He’s trying to do the same.

“That’s what (these one-man shows) are,” Ross says. “It’s essentially revisiting the 8-year-old kid that I was and that a lot of other people recognize in themselves. That’s the style of my performance. As far as the average audience-goer, it’s observational humor.”

Stranger Things is the first time he’s attempting a one-man performance based on a television series. It will also be his first time performing a show in Cincinnati. (He’s performed in four continents.) He collaborated on rewriting the original series script of Stranger Things with TJ Dawe, who has directed other Ross one-man shows.

“I’ve never reduced television down, so I think a little hand-holding artistically is a good thing because you’ll write something by yourself and think, ‘God, nobody’s going to get this. This isn’t funny.’ And you kill it,” Ross says. “Whereas if you share it almost immediately with another person, they go, ‘No! It’s totally going to work.’ So little tiny babies you might’ve gotten rid of, you end up keeping.”

When asked what he’s looking forward to the most on his tour of his Stranger Things adaptation, he replies that it’s the whole production.

“I’m not trying to dodge the answer,” he says. “Really, it’s so fresh and new to me right now that I’m tingly hoping that people like it. I’m hoping that they love it, that they get it and that they can remember what I’m doing. It’s a very now show for me and it’s going to be electric.”

One Man Stranger Things occurs 8 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine). Tickets/more info: