It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The whole point of a one-person show is that the same person is before us on the stage the whole time, playing all the roles, taking all the lines, defying time and space to entertain us for two hours at a stretch. By their nature, movies are the enemy of this format.
They take the virtuosity of the stage achievement and turn it into a device. And they’re an unforgiving test of the material: Since the performer doesn’t get points simply for standing unaided before us, the script had better be good.
There are, of course, countless ways to adapt a one-person show to the screen. You can film it live before a real audience, as Richard Pryor did in “Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip,” or compile it from several live performances, as Eric Bogosian did in “Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll,” or turn it into a confrontation with the camera, as Sandra Bernhard did in “Without You I'm Nothing,” or frankly just film it as a performance, as Jonathan Demme did with Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia.” No matter how you approach it, you lose what Las Vegas stage performers call the “sweat break,” where they get a round of applause for mopping the sweat from their faces and proving how hard they’re working. With the film of a stage show, everybody knows it’s a movie, and that if the performer gets it wrong he can always do it again (Pryor’s great film is mostly the record of the second night, after the first run-through didn’t work).
I’ve seen Lily Tomlin’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” onstage, where part of its undoubted appeal is her actual physical achievement. Bounding into the spotlight, already running in place, she provides such a reckless expenditure of energy that you want to applaud her just on athletic grounds. She plays so many characters in so many different ways that the result is kind of awe-inspiring; like her or not, you have to admire how hard she works.