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A brooding poem in the night

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Theater: "Nocturne"

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George Regout, identified in the play as The Son, killed his sister when he was 17 years old. She was 9.

The play is Nocturne, Adam Rapp’s poignant drama about the effects of the accidental death of the little girl on her big brother and their parents.

Regout’s 90-minute monologue begins with a description of the family and its comfortable middle-class lifestyle in a “blond ranch house” in Joliet, Illinois. The living room is predominantly furnished with a vintage grand piano, a Steinway, handed down from father to son for three generations. It’s the piano that the son uses to become a musical prodigy.

But perhaps mirroring his own melancholy, the piano “doesn’t sing,” he says, “it sobs.”

On the night of his sister’s death, his father, overcome with grief, sticks the muzzle of a revolver in his son’s mouth, but at the last minute he doesn’t shoot. The son, sickened by the incident and by the oily, metal taste of the gun, leaves home that night and doesn’t return for 15 years.

He goes to New York and finds work in a bookstore and buries himself in the books, reading everything he can get his hands on.

He continually relives the automobile accident that killed his sister, fantasizing and adding elements to the story. She had unexpectedly run into the street, into the path of his car, and the crash decapitated her. And at one point her brother imagines that she had run into the street on purpose, committing suicide in order to avoid living through a tedious and unrewarding middle-class life. He wonders whether she had a death wish.

Playwright Rapp’s verbiage as Regout recounts his life, however, is poetic as well as vividly morose. The Son describes his icy mother as “Abraham Lincoln in an evening gown” and calls his father “Earl the automaton.” He describes his own “cold intestinal sorrow” and talks about how “time flattens” and how “fury smells like cold undercooked pork.”

Nocturne was first produced by the American Repertory Theater at the Hasty Pudding Theater in 2000. Adam Rapp, who won the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights for this play, is also the author of some 25 plays in addition to eight young adult novels and several screenplays for film and television, including the 2010 season of In Treatment for HBO.

George Regout, born in Brussels, currently lives in Berlin and is making his North American stage debut in this production. He is known in Europe for his work at Schillertheater-Werkstatt in Berlin and for his long-standing role in the television series Verliebt in Berlin, a German version of the show Ugly Betty.

Though he is fluent in four European languages in addition to English, his delivery, I find, is a bit precious. And the staging is extremely static. Director Justin Ross keeps the movement tight and Regout mostly stands still or sits on the edge of a desk, which, aside from a heavily stocked bookcase and a chair, is the only furnishing on the stage. It’s an interesting production, but a long 90 minutes.

Nocturne can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 through March 9th (with an added performance on Thursday, Feb. 27th and no performance on Sunday, March 2) at The Other Space @ The Actors Company, 916A North Formosa Avenue in West Hollywood. Call 323-960-4443 for tickets.

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