Review by Pauline Adamek. *This review first appeared on www.StageRaw.com * Say “yes” to the whisky. Colin Mitchell has resurrected a one-person play he first staged in 1996 and has dusted it off for a remount at the Hollywood Fringe Festival during its fifth year. Written and performed by Mitchell, and directed by Christian Levatino, “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” tells the fanciful first-person tale of a man now pushing 50 who, for a handful of years, became enmeshed in the street drug trafficking scene in post-Hippie San Francisco. After helping himself to some of the drug money, sticky fingered Linden fled retribution by holing up in Arklow — a remote country village in Scotland.
The American interloper is ostracized by its native inhabitants. What happens when past nemeses catch up with this anti-hero — some 20- years in hiding — is the stuff of minor legend. In 1974 Northern Irish folk singer-songwriter Van Morrison released a song about the character he later claimed was fictional, and Mitchell took that title, fleshing out the bones of the fable for his self-starring play.
Mitchell’s show begins with Linden yawning, wiping the sleep from his eyes, then settling down to a shave with a straight razor. Suddenly he notices the audience. He appears unsure as to whether or not we are figments of his imagination, but addresses us anyway, regaling us with a portion of his life’s story in a mostly rhetorical and rambling fashion. A lightly sketched portrait of a smart-mouthed opportunist eventually emerges, amidst shaggy dog digressions and bouts of bellowed antagonism towards the pesky local kids. One such interruption brings a soccer ball to his door, which prompts a bit of fancy footwork that then segues into a vivid yet random story about a memorable soccer moment our central character once observed.
Unfortunately, there’s a layer of extreme staginess to this play, as well as in Mitchell’s performance, to the extent that the whole piece feels shrouded by a fog of phoniness. There’s Mitchell as Linden “suddenly” noticing the audience’s presence. Mitchell pretends to shave, but only actually shaves his neck; his beard remains. Linden irons a shirt and dresses for Sunday church, but the shirt is already pressed and the iron is cold. On the numerous occasions that Linden becomes distracted and annoyed by the neighborhood kids at his door, Mitchell never actually hears or registers their presence, he simply reacts. Perhaps they are also figments of Linden’s imagination, yet the soccer ball is real. Mitchell has altered Van Morrison’s celebration of “an Irish American living in San Francisco” to give his character Scottish origins, to suit Mitchell’s nostalgia for his own lineage. Clever lines such as “I am the Boo Radley of Arklow,” ring hollow; Boo Radley didn’t attend church every Sunday.
Despite his mannerisms, Mitchell gives an entertaining performance and the story itself, while scattered, is vividly told. Interestingly, as Linden’s demeanor becomes increasingly unhinged, we begin to doubt his reliability as a narrator. The character also sips from a whisky glass for the entire show and, early on, offers to share his Glenlivet with anyone who wants some.