Monday, March 12, 2012

One Man. Two Deaths

Soulstice Theatre Presents the Regional Premiere of NOCTURNE

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Soulstice Theatre continues its season this month with the regional premiere of Adam Rapp’s Nocturne. The author of Red Light Winter delves into questions of death. Jason Thompson plays this one mostly in monologue as he plays a struggling author who rushes off to New York after the death of his little sister. He and his car were involved in the girl’s death. It tore his family apart. And now he’s trying to make sense of it all.

The stage is littered in books from various eras. Paperbacks and hard covers of quite a few different genres. There’s nothing else onset but a typewriter. After intermission there’s also a television. Images occasionally appear on a screen behind the action. For the most part, though, this is Thompson grappling with the flawed poetry of Adam Rapp. Language always fails to express the full scope of emotion that breathes through grief. Rapp manages hints of truly inspired work here and there. It’s brutally beautiful stuff in places.

In the course of the play, we come to understand that the narrator will have to work his way through two different deaths. There’s a heavy sadness about it. There’s a strikingly clever personality at the heart of it all that makes the sadness worth diving into. Thompson does an admirable job of harnessing that personality and bringing it to the stage with kind of a deeply resonant intellectual emotionality.

Accompanying Thompson in largely silent roles are Mark Flagg and Mary Buchel as his parents and  Ruby Armstrong as his late sister. They all have really powerful moments here . . . probably the single most haunting is Ruby’s appearance for the narrator’s description of his late sister. He describes memories of her and she acts them out. It’s simple, but it’s haunting. She's there for us just like she's there for him, but we know she's only a phantom of the past. We know he can't actually interact with her. They're both onstage--just out of reach of each other. 

The script occasionally strikes an emotionally resonant tone like the one outlined above. Thanks to a solidly heartfelt performance by Jason Thomson, the production maintains its emotional depth even when the script feels a bit weak. With slow, deliberate tones and a deep, abiding understanding of the nature of grief, Thompson brings the audience that much deeper into the nature of human loss.

Soulstice Theatre’s Nocturne runs through March 24th at the Keith Tamsett Theater on 3770 South Pennsylvania Avenue. For ticket reservations, call 414-481-2800. 

 

 

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