By day Wade A. Vaughn works in the records department of a benefits company. Come evening, he takes on several different personalities. Nine, to be precise.
As the sole actor in the Loudmouth Collective's production of "Cul-de-Sac," opening tonight at Open Eye Figure Theater, Vaughn plays doomed Leonard, a single gay man, and eight of his neighbors, all recalling their observations in the moments leading up to his demise in the wee hours of a rainy night.
"I lived in this neighborhood for 15 years as a person and I had more impact in my last five minutes as a sound," Leonard, who serves as the play's tour guide/narrator, says early on.
"Leonard is a quiet, mild-mannered guy who wants to be more sophisticated than he thinks he is," Vaughn said.
The script "plays with the idea of how much we think we know against what we really don't know," said director Natalie Novacek.
"Like an episode of 'Law and Order: Criminal Intent,' everyone gives little snippets of what they saw or heard, revealing more about themselves than they do about the death."
"Cul-de-Sac" was written and first performed by Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian playwright, in 2002 in Montreal. Working with MacIvor, who specializes in multi-character solo shows, "feels like home to me," said Novacek, who has directed three of his previous works. "It's exactly what Loudmouth is all about."
The 70-minute play opens the second season for the collective, whose raison d'etre — focusing on small casts and minimal language to tell stories about everyday people — runs counterpoint to its name.
Vaughn drew wide praise for his performance in Jeffrey Hatcher's "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" with Walking Shadow Theatre Co. last year. Novacek, who has worked with him before, calls him "nuanced and specific in the ways you have to be for a multi-character show. He understands his body and voice so well."
During rehearsal one night at Aldrich Avenue Presbyterian Church in Uptown, the sound of bouncing basketballs and running feet in the church's gym emanating from overhead, Vaughn seemed acutely aware that this performance can't be phoned in, even for a few seconds. Other than lighting and a few props, it's all about him. And then there's the matter of all those different characters.
"I'm going into nine zones, not just one," he said. "If I forget my lines, no one's going to save me."
Moving between character rhythms feels like "shifting gears," he said. "We have an old man who holds himself all crunched in, a stripper who bumps and grinds, the gangly 13-year-old. Each one has a different physicality."
The solo performance takes "an incredible amount"of faith in oneself, said Vaughn, who must rely almost completely on choreographed gestures to let the audience know, sometimes through single-sentence transitions, that he's switching back and forth between a husband and wife, or a 13-year-old girl and her father.
In a particularly epic scene, a Christmas party, all nine characters are in the room at the same time.
"If it works, it's going to be awesome," he said. "If not, it's going to kill me."