Created By: JonnyBOctober 1, 2013 Last Edited By: JonnyBOctober 18, 2013

One Man Show

The film or play has only one actor doing a solo performance.

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Trope
Do We Have This One Needs A Better Description.

Alternate title: Solo Act.

Occasionally, an entire film will be focused on one particular individual and how he deals with an isolating situation. The One Man Show is also often done in Theatre to dramatic effect; many times a solo performer takes on multiple roles. These often are Award Bait for actors, as they are challenging to perform.

Compare Economy Cast and Minimalist Cast. (If it is one actor most of the way through, but one or more actors physically appear at the beginning, end or somewhere in the middle of the film, it is Minimalist Cast, not this trope.)


Examples:

Film
  • In Moon, Sam Rockwell is the only actor, playing alongside a robot, and later, himself.
  • One Hundred And Twenty Seven Hours stars James Franco as real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston, who is trapped alone under a boulder for five and a half days.
  • Buried, about a man who's been buried alive in a coffin by terrorists.
  • In Secret Honor, Philip Baker Hall plays a rambling, drunken, possibly suicidal Richard M. Nixon.
  • Silent Running stars Bruce Dern, and a couple of robots.
  • In The Human Voice, Ingred Bergman plays a woman having a breakdown as she pleads on the telephone with her long-time lover, who is about to marry another woman.
  • The 2011 independent film Wrecked stars Adrien Brody as a man regaining consciousness in a wrecked car trapped in a mountain ravine.
  • Monster in a Box is a monologue by writer Spalding Gray.
  • The Life of Reilly a one man show (originally a stage play) starring Charles Nelson Reilly.
  • Sobibór, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures records the monologue of a survivor of Sobibor extermination camp.
  • Yaadein, a black and white 1964 Indian film about a man who returns home one day to find his family gone.
  • The Man Who Sleeps a French film about wandering the streets of Paris.
  • Gray’s Anatomy, a 1996 monologue chronicling Spalding Gray’s experiments with alternative medicine in battling a painful eye condition.
  • The Noah, a 1975 post-apocalyptic film with Robert Strauss about the last man alive after a nuclear holocaust.
  • Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett shows the eponymous Krapp as he listens to audio tapes he made when he was younger.
  • Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, is a documentary film that consists of one 90-minute interview with Adolf Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge.
  • All Is Lost features Robert Redford as a sailor who must struggle to stay alive after his yacht founders. Redford is the only cast member.

Opera
  • La voix humaine, an opera in one act where the only character on stage is a woman talking into her telephone.

Theatre
  • The Vagina Monologues was originally performed solo by its creator, Eve Ensler.
  • Patrick Stewart once did a tour de force one man stage production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
  • Hal Holbrook made a career out of his one-man show where he played Mark Twain.
  • Rick Miller's one-man show Mac Homer, which casts Simpsons characters in the roles of Mac Beth. While largely following the play's basic story, many liberties, fourth wall breaks and lampshades unsurprisingly occur for comedic effect.
  • Groucho, a one man show about Groucho Marx, most notably performed by Gabe Kaplan.
  • Tru, a one-man show about Truman Capote.
  • Give 'em Hell, Harry, a one man show about Harry S Truman.
  • Jacob Marley's Chirstmas Carol, a one-man show telling The Christmas Carol from Marley's perspective.
  • A Bronx Tale was originally a theatrical one man show before being changed into a film with multiple actors.
  • 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal's Broadway show about his father.
  • Say Goodnight, Gracie a play by Rupert Holmes about George Burns and Gracie Allen. One-man show (played by Frank Gorshin on Broadway), though at times he interacts with a recording of Gracie's voice.
  • Zoe Caldwell won a Tony for her performance in Lillian, about Lillian Hellman.
  • The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a vehicle for Lily Tomlin written by Jane Wagner. Tomlin played several characters throughout the evening, all of whom were interconnected in some way. Tomlin won the Tony.
  • I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and won Tonys for Best Play and Best Actor (Jefferson Mays). About Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who killed her father when she was a young child and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender person. Mays played 40 roles in the show.
  • The Belle of Amherst, by William Luce, about Emily Dickinson. Tony Award for Julie Harris.
  • The play Duse's Fever is a one-woman show about the famous 1920s actress Eleonora Duse, a Sidelong Glance Biopic from the perspective of Nina Gibello, who was the dresser and servant to Duse; the play takes place in Real Time in the dressing room while Duse is onstage.
  • Shirley Valentine, by Willy Russell, about a British woman's sexual awakening on a vacation to Greece. Tony Award for Pauline Collins.
  • The German indie play Hikikomori, fitting its protagonist, has only one character, who spends the entire play locked in his room.
  • Holland Taylor wrote and starred in ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards.
  • Adrienne Barbeau starred in The Property Known as Garland, about the final stage performance of Judy Garland, written by Barbeau's husband Billy Van Zandt (one other minor character appears onstage, a flunky at the theatre where she is to give her concert.)
  • The Blonde in the Thunderbird was Suzanne Somers' autobiographical show, written and directed by Mitzie and Ken Welch, based on Somers' memoirs.
  • Bette Midler starred on Broadway in I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, written by John Logan about a real-life influential Hollywood Agent.
  • Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show. Comedian Vicki Lawrence plays herself and her famous character "Mama".

Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • October 1, 2013
    henke37
    There is a siblingtrope where someone has a lot of titles for themself in the credits, despite being the only one who made it.
  • October 1, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    • Groucho, a one man show about Groucho Marx, most notably performed by Gabe Kaplan.
    • Tru, a one-man show about Truman Capote.
    • Give 'em Hell, Harry, a one man show about Harry S Truman.
    • Jacob Marley's Chirstmas Carol, a one-man show telling The Christmas Carol from Marley's perspective.
    • A Bronx Tale was originally a theatrical one man show before being changed into a film with multiple actors.
    • 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal's Broadway show about his father.
  • October 1, 2013
    kjnoren
    Some more possible examples:

    Literature:

    • Fredric Brown's famous short-short horror story that starts and ends his short story Knock:
      The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...
  • October 1, 2013
    Duncan
    These often are Award Bait for actors, as they are challenging to perform.

    • Say Goodnight, Gracie a play by Rupert Holmes about George Burns and Gracie Allen. One-man show (played by Frank Gorshin on Broadway), though at times he interacts with a recording of Gracie's voice.
    • Zoe Caldwell won a Tony for her performance in Lillian, about Lillian Hellman.
    • The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a vehicle for Lily Tomlin written by Jane Wagner. Tomlin played several characters throughout the evening, all of whom were interconnected in some way. Tomlin won the Tony.
    • I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and won Tonys for Best Play and Best Actor (Jefferson Mays). About Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who killed her father when she was a young child and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender person. Mays played 40 roles in the show.
    • The Belle of Amherst, by William Luce, about Emily Dickinson. Tony Award for Julie Harris.
  • October 1, 2013
    Duncan
    • The play Duse's Fever is a one-woman show about the famous 1920s actress Eleonora Duse, a Sidelong Glance Biopic from the perspective of Nina Gibello, who was the dresser and servant to Duse; the play takes place in Real Time in the dressing room while Duse is onstage.
    • Shirley Valentine, by Willy Russell, about a British woman's sexual awakening on a vacation to Greece. Tony Award for Pauline Collins.
  • October 1, 2013
    somerandomdude
    The German indie play Hikikomori, fitting its protagonist, has only one character, who spends the entire play locked in his room.
  • October 1, 2013
    Duncan
    • Holland Taylor wrote and starred in ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards.
    • Adrienne Barbeau starred in The Property Known as Garland, about the final stage performance of Judy Garland, written by Barbeau's husband Billy Van Zandt (one other minor character appears onstage, a flunky at the theatre where she is to give her concert.)
    • The Blonde in the Thunderbird was Suzanne Somers' autobiographical show, written and directed by Mitzie and Ken Welch, based on Somers' memoirs.
    • Bette Midler starred on Broadway in I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, written by John Logan about a real-life influential Hollywood Agent.
  • October 2, 2013
    JonnyB
    I'm not sure Knock qualifies.
  • October 2, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett shows the eponymous Krapp as he listens to audio tapes he made when he was younger.
  • October 3, 2013
    Duncan
    A few of the items listed under film were stage plays first (The Spalding Gray entries, The Human Voice, and Krapp's Last Tape). Not sure how they should be listed. The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe was also made into a film.

    Shirley Valentine was also made into a film, but with Adaptation Expansion, having other actors play out the scenes.
  • October 4, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, Martin Short's one man show with a cast of six.
  • October 4, 2013
    Kernigh
    Pages should not link to themselves. In the trope description, One Man Show should not be a link.
  • October 5, 2013
    JonnyB
    ^^ A one man show with a cast of six? As in, he played six of his characters? And I'm assuming that was a theater performance, not a film?
  • October 5, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^Yes, a theater performance. No, there are six actors in his "one" man show.
  • October 5, 2013
    JonnyB
    Then it doesn't really count. It's only a "one man show" in name only.
  • October 5, 2013
    Arivne
    Theatre
    • Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show. Comedian Vicki Lawrence plays herself and her famous character "Mama".
  • October 5, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^Allow me to quote the laconic: "The film or play has only one main actor, or one actor period, doing mostly a solo performance." Fame Becomes Me qualifies as "one main actor" and "mostly."

  • October 6, 2013
    JonnyB
    Then perhaps I need to revise the laconic. But then I haven't seen the show. The point is, one actor is basically doing a solo performance. They might interact with a voice offstage or a phonecall or video or something, there might be other actors at the beginning or end of the show (such as in the case of Cast Away) but they are entirely incidental and the overwhelming majority of the show is one actor. If you've got five or six actors in the play, it's not a one man show, whether you call it that or not. And reading a review of the play online, it sounds like the supporting cast does a lot of interacting with Short.
  • October 6, 2013
    Prfnoff
    • La voix humaine, an opera in one act where the only character on stage is a woman talking into her telephone.
  • October 6, 2013
    Arivne
    ^^ Allowing other people to be in the show "at the beginning or end as long as they're entirely incidental" would make this YMMV because it would encourage arguments as to whether they appeared too long after the beginning or before the end and whether they were "entirely incidental" or not.

    To avoid this problem, I suggest restricting this trope to shows where there's only one human being in the cast, period. If any other people appear, even incidentally, it wouldn't be this trope.

    I wouldn't have any problem with phone calls, voices from offstage or videos as long as the people involved didn't actually appear in the flesh.
  • October 6, 2013
    JonnyB
    That would eliminate 1408 and Cast Away, but your suggestion has merit. Changed the laconic and description, and removed those two examples.
  • October 7, 2013
    gallium
    It would also eliminate 127 Hours, where Franco cavorts with a couple of chicks in an underground pool before getting stuck in his rock (and later meets his rescuers), and Moon (video messages from Sam Rockwell's wife and daughter, video messages from his bosses, a video message when Rockwell inspects the escape pod). Actually if you were to enforce a strict one-man-show rule you'd probably eliminate just about every movie other than films of stage performances. This is a Theater trope.
  • October 7, 2013
    gallium
    Film

    • Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, is a documentary film that consists of one 90-minute interview with Adolf Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge.
  • October 7, 2013
    JonnyB
    Video is allowed, it's not a live person. The only person he physically interacts with is his clone (himself) and the computer.

    It's kinda getting a bit more narrow than I wanted it to be... when I conceived of the trope I put 1408 in it because it was mostly Cage acting against a room, with relatively minor appearances/interaction by any other actor, and that ought to count as it's largely a one-man tour de force. But not sure how to draw the line between this and Minimalist Cast more clearly.

    You are correct though; it's largely a Theater trope.
  • October 17, 2013
    gallium
    I'm reading about a second movie that apparently would qualify even under the strict definition.

    Film
    • All Is Lost features Robert Redford as a sailor who must struggle to stay alive after his yacht founders. Redford is the only cast member.

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