There are two impediments that mar the potential of “Nocturne” at The Other Space at The Actor’s Company. Foremost is that Adam Rapp, an award winning author, has blurred the prerequisite obligations between playwright and novelist.
“Fifteen years ago I killed my sister,” intones the son (George Regout). The setting is a book signing of the narrator’s first novel Nocturne, which tells how his childhood, his family and nearly his very life were smothered beneath one of those unfathomable crippling tragedies that can make us victims of our own lives. The tale he draws from his composition is told in a language luxuriant and lyrical.
“A piano doesn’t sing, it sobs.”
“Makeup so severe it looked like it was applied at knife point.”
“The sea crushes you if you don’t know how to swim.”
The writing is that which would delight a reader as their eyes went dashing over line and paragraph, but unfortunately that language spoken on stage is too thick for the listener’s ears and after two uninterrupted hours, one’s Eustachian tubes are plugged with the prose.
Simply put, a “reading” is not a performance.
Regout is an actor of unmistakable depth. He handles the language magnificently, there is just too much of it. The narrative of a novel builds the world it builds with bricks of a single mortar – the word. Not so the drama constituted for the stage, whose text is only half expressed on page, and is only whole when the actor speaks it. The playwright, in forgetting this principle has imposed on his actor an intemperate bulk of verbiage suitable for the page not the stage. In doing so he has denied Mr. Regout his rightful contribution as an actor by hobbling his ability to create his portion of what Michael Chekov termed “the trinity of theatre” existing between actor, material and audience. That Mr. Regout succeeds, as well as he does in exhuming a performance from underneath such a verbal mass is a testament to his talents.
Director Justin Ross has done some commendable work here in his handling of a rather cavernous venue. Mr. Ross, in conjunction with lighting designer R. Christopher Stokes (whose work with the Fountain Theatre we’ve admired) has utilized the shadow casting allowed by the vast emptiness of the space to good effect, employing Regout’s looming silhouette as almost a secondary character. Mr. Stokes, with a skillful flow of illuminated shafts then darkening pools, manages to convey a host of scene shifts which overcomes the blatant angularness of the venue itself.
This acknowledgement of the production’s visual achievement brings us to the second handicap the show faces, and that is the acoustics of the stage. The space is of some size, the ceiling high, and the show boasts no set to speak of, resulting in a reverberation that stalks every utterance. While this may seem a minor grievance, the passage of two hours bloats it considerably.
The show’s merits, and it has many, suffers as well from a plague of more minute woes.
Among them is the nagging question of why the narrator, a young boy born and raised in Illinois, has a Belgian accent.
Again, this is not some minor nitpicking quibble. When dealing with a one man show in an intimate venue nothing on stage is minor and you never want to distract an audience with a question that isn’t answered. A simple insertion of a single line commenting on “When my family arrived from Brussels—“ would have addressed the issue nicely.
When asked his opinion of the music of Wagner, Mark Twain is quoted as replying, “I hear it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
And neither is “Nocturne”.
With a good forty-five minutes trimmed from the script, and curtain strategically draped to dampen the bounce back, this show would delight any audience. As it is now, it merely tests them.
I fear the fault for this must be placed before producer Mike Abramson. “Nocturne” like his mounting of “God’s Gypsy” at the Lillian earlier this year, displays artistry and bold ambitious strides that seem to trip over its own untied laces, each resulting in a beautifully crafted frame, for a poorly realized product.
In approaching any material there are two fundamental and daunting demands which producers, as well as directors, are burdened by. They must envision what it can be, while recognizing what it is.
As an old Vaudeville magician once explained to me, “The show isn’t the hat; it’s what you pull from it.”
The Other Space @ The Actors Company
916A N. Formosa Ave.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
Performances: February 8 – March 9
Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 7 p.m.
(Additional performance on Thursday, Feb 27; no performance on Sunday, Mar 2)