“UK Underdog,” written and performed by Steve Spiro, is the latest talk of the town in regional theatre, now playing at the Zephyr Theatre. Steve Spiro, in his provocative one man show, brings to life onstage his autobiographical experiences, tracing his journey from London to LA and back again. Early on, we learn of incessant bullying and mocking he endured during his formative years. Spiro, in a tour de force performance, re-enacts the characters most important and integral in his life, from immediate family (mother, father, nana) to enemies, best friend, roommate, employer, and even an indirect mention of Jen Aniston (Friends), whom he once dated. His solo performance is replete with precise diction, physical mannerisms, such as talking with his hands, and ‘pretend kick-boxing,’ and all the requisite nuances. His voice and body language reveal his complete range of emotions, from nervous and fearful, to depressed, angry, rebellious, to sensitive, hopeful, and even optimistic. He perceptively states, in a genius line of dialogue: “you can’t change the past, you can only change you.” It is a poignant look at self worth after a life smitten with loneliness, struggling, and a burning desire to overcome obstacles and survive. Spiro’s usage of incorporating references to his family’s favorite TV shows (i.e. Chips, Starsky & Hutch, and Benny Hill), provide a hint of levity and nostalgia, in contrast to the otherwise heavy subject matter. Even a single year of bullying can seem like forever and just yesterday, all at the same time. In this show, one learns, (as Spiro learned, the hard way), of the major price one pays for friendship, acceptance, approval, and temptations and impulses along the way. Of utmost importance, “UK Underdog” looks at bullying incidents that occur in Spiro’s early age (pre Bar Mitzvah). During this time, a web of connected events leads to rising tensions, in which a gang of tough bullies confront and assault him. We witness these stories from the performer’s unique perspective, and how he miraculously evolves from youth to adulthood. This 80 minute one man show keeps the audience on the edge of one’s seat throughout. It is a great way of opening up a once taboo subject , which does not disappoint. The dialogue and deliberation takes the actor (and his viewers) back in time, and not always in an easy, comfortable way. He vividly, almost graphically, recalls of the times he was bullied and punched relentlessly. But something positive finally came from those bad memories. This play has a poignant message for the audience to take away, and see someone come through to the other end. Director Ann Bronston states “Steve’s story is all our stories. How life happens to us, and how, through resilience and determination, seemingly random events shape a life and help us find meaning.” Even though a victim of bullying, Steve was able to rise to the occasion, even taking a job as kick boxing instructor at a gym. He grapples with issues of identity, belonging, and plans for his future ( as his nana incessantly asks him, yet she also did her share of nurturing). All his characters live in him, and he makes each one his own. Steve’s self doubt and adolescent angst sometimes simmers, sometimes brews, yet ultimately he regains confidence and innate strength, and finds his path and ‘new home,’ here in Los Angeles.
His strong, solid writing comes from his experience and what he knows. “UK Underdog” is a provocative, fresh, honest look at a how a young boy transforms himself through sheer will. Steve Spiro gives a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance, and his story is one that will stay with me for a long time, for a myriad of reasons.
*On a side note, all proceeds from the production will benefit Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team, and other selected animal charities and anti-bullying groups, both causes near and dear to Steve Spiro’s heart.
Through Oct 28th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm
Sundays 2 pm
Zephyr Theatre 7456 Melrose Ave.