Some solo performers just play themselves. But in “Firecracker Bye Bye,” his one-man show at Salem Theatre Company, Seth Lepore brings a whole cast of characters to life.
“I’m going back and forth between telling the audience stories of what happened, and then playing my father, my grandmother, myself, my wife and my aunt,” said Lepore, who is staging his work tonight, tomorrow and Saturday night.
The play centers on his grandmother, Nonie — the “firecracker” in the play’s title — who died in April 2012 at age 95 and to whom he is affectionately saying “bye.”
“She was the matriarch of the family; she was the center of everyone’s universe,” Lepore said.
She also had a unique and vivid personality, which was evident in almost everything she said and did.
“She didn’t edit a word. She said whatever was on her mind,” Lepore said. “Her comedic timing was brilliant, although she wasn’t trying to be funny.”
The play started as a memoir, but Lepore found himself using the material on stage at theater festivals. He turned it into a full-length performance after working with director Linda McInerney.
There are scenes where he is talking to his grandmother or parents on the phone that recall times when he lived in San Francisco or Colorado.
In other scenes, when they are together, Nonie enjoys telling people what she thinks about how they look.
“There was always something we were wearing, or our hair or face was off,” Lepore said. “She was commenting on our physical appearance all the time. I’m a punk-rock kid, so I always looked weird, so I would make it worse to mess with her.”
Lepore’s wife, Sharon Esdale, tended to take Nonie’s criticisms and suggestions more seriously.
“There’s a whole scene with Sharon, about how she should wear makeup, and I’m stuck with them in this situation,” Lepore said.