‘Damascus’: One man on ‘long, gnarly journey to a beautiful place’



Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Instead of dozens of actors littering the stage of Bratton Theater, one man stands alone delivering every line of the play.

“(Being an actor) is the closest I’ve ever come to being on a team, and when you are the team, it’s kind of weird,” Andrew Weems said.

Weems is the sole author and actor in his one-man show Damascus, which shows at 8 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater. The piece runs as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s second annual “Chau-Talk-One” series, which gives solo artists a forum to present their work.

Weems will lead a talk-back following the show, and will discuss Damascus at 12:15 p.m. today in Bratton Theater as part of CTC’s Brown Bag Series.

Weems also serves as a guest artist actor for the company, performing the roles of Duke Frederick and Duke Senior in CTC’s third full production of the summer, Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Weems, a professional actor known for Broadway, off-Broadway and film and television performances, returns to Chautauqua with his second one-man show. The first, Namaste Man, was a memoir of his life as an American child growing up in more impoverished foreign countries.

“One of the basic points of view that I have is being an outsider having grown up overseas,” Weems said. “(I’ve realized) everybody actually does feel like a weirdo and an outsider at least half the time.”

Though Damascus is fictional, it carries the same theme of being a perpetual outsider and is based loosely on Weems himself.

Damascus debuted in New York City’s 4th Street Theatre and follows a man in his deteriorating life as he falls to his lowest and, through a surprising source, stumbles toward redemption.

“The weird irony is that it is, in a lot of ways, more truthful to me — really the honest me — than the actual memoir was. I found that really exciting and fun,” he said.

The impetus for penning the story came when Weems visited Nepal and India to research for Namaste Man. It was his first time returning to Nepal since he grew up there as a child. The juxtaposition of how he remembered the place and the reality of Nepal lent itself to a new story.

The piece revolves around what his first play described, being an American in a foreign place.

Inspired by a series of other one-man shows he read and watched, Weems decided to write again. Though he originally intended to write the piece to be performed by another actor, he eventually found himself in the part.

“It’s like being in a play and not being in a play. No one else ever talks,” Weems said. “I think of it more as storytelling.”

He performs with limited props and a table. The set for Fifty Ways will be up behind him, as the show’s performances bookend Damascus.

Though Weems had a director in New York for the show and will have a director when he takes the show to Boise, Idaho, during the winter holidays, he performs the piece without a director while in Chautauqua.

“There is a real sense of creation with it,” he said.

A self-proclaimed introvert, Weems always thought he would be a writer growing up.

Theater, unlike writing, endowed him with performance’s innate camaraderie with others, and he chose to pursue that side of his passions while at Brown University for his undergraduate studies. He continued to study theater while at University of California, San Diego.

But writing stayed a part of his life, percolating in his brain. Writing and performing became the intersection of his two passions. As he has journeyed to create the show, the piece also follows a man’s journey.

“It’s a story about a long, gnarly trip to a beautiful place,” he said. “I hope audiences get a connection to it.”

Weems is particularly excited about performing the piece in Chautauqua, because the audiences are intellectual and adventurous. And Damascus is an adventure, he said.

“I think people actually go on a real journey that’s very compelling, and hopefully, they come back in one piece,” Weems said.