Pigpen Presents: The Nightmare Story
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 15, 2010
Go see The Nightmare Story. You can read on to find out why I recommend it so highly or you can just go see it for yourself. If your taste in theatre includes sharp, artful storytelling, puppets, innovative (yet so very simple) use of lighting, live music played by the actors, non-literal while still linear narrative, comedy, and a generous helping of the macabre you're wasting your time reading this review. Just go buy tickets before it sells out.
If you're still reading, you're either a friend (thanks, you guys) or you still need convincing. Here's some insight from the program: "Pigpen Theatre Company is comprised of seven soon-to-be-senior acting majors from the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama...The development process is completely collaborative, with each member of the group contributing ideas for the plot, puppetry, music, and lighting...The rehearsal process is usually fast and furious." The all-male cast of five in The Nightmare Story seemingly do everything (including run the lights) and genuinely have a blast doing it.
Based on a Ukrainian folk tale, the story involves a young boy who must journey to a distant mountaintop to retrieve a flower that will magically revive his comatose mother. The thing is, his mother dreams nothing but nightmares and when she doesn't wake up one morning, her dreams bleed into her son's reality. I won't spoil his adventure but I will say that the telling is deft, often surprising, and always novel. Everything that the actors need to tell the story is right there on stage in full view of the audience from the get-go: instruments, props, lighting, even the miniature set of a town. They never need to leave the stage, and we sit in wonder thinking "how are they going to use that?" and "is that a gasmask?" It's a wonderfully immediate and rough theatre that Pigpen creates.
The performers are also accomplished musicians whose songs range from whimsical and downright silly to haunting and lonesome. Their jolly pre-show jam session wherein they introduce the musical texture and playful dynamic that provides the foundation for the forthcoming performance is irresistibly entertaining. Nothing forced or phony, they're just a bunch of guys having a good time warming up. Their playful spirit even managed to infect their venue director who actually had fun with her "Welcome to the Fringe" speech.
As with all great ensemble work, no one performer outshines the others; they're all equally bright and bring the best out of each other. "The Boys" (as the program calls them) are Alex Falberg, Arya Shahi, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, and Ryan Melia. Well done, lads. Come back to New York when you're finished at school. Maybe you'll teach us a thing or two.