BWW Reviews: HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME, Greenwich Theatre, August 31
One man shows are often a showcase for an actor's urbane wit - Heavy like the Weight of a Flame (at Greenwich Theatre until September 3) is a showcase for R. Ernie Silva's urban wit. On a stage bare but for some bleak black boxes that evoke the larger, bleaker boxes of the Brooklyn Housing Projects where Silva saw light about ten years after Mike Tyson had first blinked and snarled at the world, one man cavorts, grimaces, sits, dances and mimes. Silva's is a magnetic presence on stage and, like Tyson before him, knew from an early age that his destiny lay far away from the drugs and guns that had seen off friends and family while he was still at school. We hear how he got from there to here.
As a boy, Silva was fascinated by the poetry of Shakespeare, the rhythm of the writings of Kerouac and the music of Jimi Hendrix. Though dissed (I suppose that's still the word) by his elder brothers, it's clear that they respected the bright boy in their household and, through their heroin-induced haze, they half-frightened, half-advised the kid to stay off the junk and find a way to get away. With a guitar for company, Silva rode the railroad freight wagons as they criss-crossed the vast interior of the United States, falling in with other philosopher-dreamers, spending a night or two in the penitentiary courtesy of the redneck cops of Texas and rolling dIce To search for answers in his quest to find his destiny.
Though there's more than a whiff of the old-fashioned Great American Dream about Silva's tale, there's little of the discourses of self-improvement one finds so often in such stories - Silva adopts the language of the Brooklyn street, veering well away from Oprahish self-actualisation, religious redemption or business jargonish resource maximisation. His story is palpably true for him and, over the ninety minutes of its telling, becomes true for us too. There are no great surprises along the way, but there are plenty of laughs, lots of cultural reference points to tick off and, crucially, a protagonist with enough charisma to leave us not just happy to find out that things worked out for him, but eager to hear more.