Dallas actor and playwright Danny O'Connor first performed his one-man show Zero at WaterTower Theatre's black box studio five and a half years ago. Since then, he's lost 60 pounds and he and his show have gained some comedy muscle. Now he's a taller, younger, leaner version of Louis C.K. — the kind of fellow who wears his self-doubt, life experience and his heart on his sleeve. It's a long sleeve.
In Zero, O'Connor, who wrote the two-act play with his late brother Robert, portrays a group of guy friends, all around 30 and trying not to zero out career- and romance-wise. Leonard, an actor, is O'Connor's alter ego. Sam is a player who brags "I'm a vagina Jedi." Alex is just back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, a little too eager to share frontline stories. Out for a night of drinking and bullshitting, they all have connections, real or imagined, to high school dream girl Mindy McPhee. Only one has slept with her, however, though he remembers little of the encounter, which occurred only hours before he sees his pals for their reunion.
Having performed this piece around the country for some years now, O'Connor expertly paces the quick back-and-forth conversations as he slips easily among the physical and vocal changes for each character. His writing shows a knack for sharp wordplay, as when the bar waitress sends an unexpected round of shots to the table and he calls it "a booze ex machina." We like this guy and he likes that we like him. When he speaks directly to the audience in the intimate studio space, he's bringing us into his confidence, buddy-to-buddy.
There's just enough melancholy in Zero to keep you from thinking the characters are jerks. Leonard is the one ready to grow up; his friends are still figuring it all out. But we like them, too.
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The arithmetic with one-man shows is tricky. Can actor plus material equal success? With his five years of polish on this play, Danny O'Connor has done the math, making Zero really add up to something.