“I was high as heck and I just wanted to love things.” Channeling a well-intentioned hippie at the beginning of the production, it’s a shock to see Addison Williams (COL ’14) morph into a sociopathic killer in the span of a few short hours. Yet Nomadic Theatre’s Night of One-Act Plays encourages this kind of versatility. While he plays the lovable Truman in John Behlmann’s Un-f**king-Believable, Williams casts off the character to take on a darker role in Neil LaBute’s Coax. Brought together on a sparse stage, the plays in Nomadic’s Night of One-Acts don’t sync together intuitively, but they combine to provide the audience with a wonderful range of theatre.
Un-f**king-Believable and Waiting for Philip Glass, directed by Hannah Hauer-King (COL ’14), capture the same devastation and loss of romance in remarkably different situations. True to its title, Un-f**king-Believable spells out the anxiety and tensions of a young relationship in a string of profanity-laced lines. A perfect foil for the laid-back Truman, his girlfriend Phoebe embodies the high-strung, crazy girlfriend. But despite her initial abrasiveness, she grows more endearing as the play goes on.
Such turns of character prove difficult given the plays’ short lengths. “It’s about what can be achieved in 20 minutes,” Hauer-King said. “You can’t simply capture one emotion. You have to present Pheobe as she is, and then turn back and have her win the audience’s affection. It’s certainly a challenge.”
Referencing Henry Kissinger, jazz, and summer ranches, Waiting for Philip Glass contrasts strikingly with Un-f**king-Believable’s nonchalance toward Thai hookers and hash-fuelled bachelor parties. Rather than focusing on the tumultuous relationships of twenty-somethings, the play captures the slowly suffocating social bounds of life in the Hamptons. Whitney McAniff (COL ’12) excellently captures the fragility of Spencer, a B-list socialite desperately trying to entertain her circle of friends. Loves cedes to practicality in Waiting for Philip Glass, as Spencer surrenders hope when the man she loves marries a member of the vapid elite.
Grounding the four disparate plays, the stage changes little throughout each of the one-acts. Paintings on the walls morph from posters of oversized album covers to seemingly expensive abstract art, while the furniture adopts different pillows or disappears entirely. This simplicity lends to smooth transitions, and gives an unusual but refreshing focus to lighting and music.
Liars Club and Coax take full advantage of this focus, using both music and lighting to engage the audience and challenge the conception of reality on stage. As Coax slowly draws the audience out of its comfort zone, breaking the fourth wall and encouraging students to interrupt the actors, chill-inducing music from the ballet Right of Spring plays. Nostalgic for a time when riots exploded over groundbreaking theatre, as happened at Right of Spring’s premier in 1913, Coax dares the audience to react, to recreate a time when, as Williams’ character says, “theatre meant something.”
“I was drawn to these plays because they fly in the face of theatrical convention,” Brendan Quinn (COL ’14), director of Coax and Liars Club, said. And they certainly do. Williams’ character assures the audience, even as he tells them of his plans to kill a young woman, “it’s still theatre, it’s absolutely theatre.”
The same bending of truth occurs in Liars Club, as the actors goad the audience into clapping for unspeakable deeds they supposedly carried out, from raping an unconscious babysitter to pouring urine on an old woman. And even while Danny Sullivan (MSB ’14) delivers the line “acting is lying,” he grapples with the blend of theatre and reality throughout the production. “If I give a genuine reaction during a play, does that make it more or less true?”
Bringing four plays together, Nomadic Theatre’s Night of One-Acts not only captures the audience, but also asks them to participate along with the socialites and sociopaths on stage. By subtly breaking the fourth wall, it ends up offering a satisfyingly different experience than traditional theater.