nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 5, 2006
This latest revival of Adam's Rapp drama, Nocturne, marks an impressive debut for a new theatre company called messhouse productions. Led by director Frank Boyd and leading man Christian Durso, this production creates the intimacy and immediacy of a close confidant disclosing long held secrets in telling Rapp's literary tale of a family torn apart by unexpected tragedy.
One of the biggest reasons for this production's success is Boyd's re-imagining of the text. In its original off-Broadway incarnation nearly a decade ago, Nocturne was played in an unspecified, surreal setting with several actors—still questionable choices for a work that reads more like a short story than a play. Boyd, thankfully, eliminates any head-scratching in that regard by setting his production in an East Village used bookstore (brought brilliantly to life by co-designers Boyd and Eric Southern). The conceit is that the play's unnamed protagonist, who also works at the bookstore, is presenting excerpts from a fictional work-in-progress at the store's weekly reading night. Surrounded by dusty stacks of books, cardboard boxes of remainders, and anchored only by a table and chair, The Man tells his story. And, what a story it is.
"Fifteen years ago, I killed my sister," he tells us, thus beginning the highly autobiographical account of his younger sister's accidental murder (he hit her with his car), and the effect it had on his family. His mother sank into a lifelong depression, while his father self-medicated to soothe the resentment and anger he developed towards him. As for The Man, he flees his Joliet, Illinois home in a guilt-fueled malaise and escapes to New York City, where he morphs into a bookish East Village hipster, and gets in touch with his literary muse. Before long, he is writing a novel, falling in love with a girl, and slowly coming to terms with the past.
Rapp's script is loaded with metaphors and striking imagery. The Man talks of his childhood home, a "blonde house full of formica," under which lie "miles of blank walls with their failed promises." His sister's death is described as "destiny's poker," while elsewhere he speaks of his grief as "a kind of personal weather system. Snow settles in the liver. The bowels grow thick with humidity. Ice congeals in the stomach." Rapp's descriptive powers are indisputable here, but it's also easy to see how Nocturne might succeed better on the page than on the stage.
Boyd and Durso will have none of that, however. Their approach to the play makes its literary inclinations a virtue instead of a distraction. Within the production's faux reading/bookstore setting, it makes perfect sense that someone would be telling a story in this way. Their concept activates Rapp's lyricism and frees the play from its sometimes writerly self-consciousness. Durso's performance as The Man is hypnotically convincing: he doesn't play the character so much as he becomes the character. Boyd's excellent direction serves only to bolster Durso (who does most of the thematic heavy lifting). The biggest compliment I can give both men is that Nocturne doesn't feel like it's directed or performed at all: instead, it truly feels like it's happening before our eyes for the very first time.
Nocturne is a very promising start for messhouse productions, and an auspicious calling card for both Boyd and Durso. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next.