The young man (roughly in his 30's) we will spend the next 100 minutes with, will tell us the grim, implacable story of how he killed his sister, when he was a teenager. Identified only as The Son (Drew Wall) begins with a variety of formal definitions of the verb, “kill.” At first it seems like a delaying tactic, while our minds feverishly grope for details. The Sister (Tara Magill) perhaps a ghost or persistent memory, wanders about the stage, innocuously coloring, reading, noodling on the piano. The Son is a piano prodigy who receives a special car as a gift, and collides with his younger sister, ending her life. Playwright Adam Rapp teases us here, somewhat. The way our bleak protagonist explains himself, it takes awhile before we realize his sister's death was not really his fault, and even longer that it doesn't matter. His cherished sister is gone, and he is the cause.
Nocturne is a very humble, gentle, intense and phenomenal act of theatre, a collaboration between Adam Rapp, director Miranda Parham, performers Drew Wall and Tara Magill, and Second Thought Theatre, for again, choosing a merciless, blinding, electrifying drama and executing it with flawless, haunting precision. Consider how grueling the premise, how overwhelming and profoundly disturbing the content. The audience listens as The Son ruminates for more than an hour and a half (almost as if we were Analysts) on the unimaginable, horrific, impact this cruel loss has had on his life and family. His father sticks a gun in his son's mouth. His mother must be institutionalized. The Son moves to New York to pursue a vocation as a writer. He never breaks down, never weeps, never succumbs to rage or shouting. We never sense that Rapp is exploiting the material or manipulating our emotions. But neither is The Son a brain-fried, comatose zombie. The situation he must elucidate for us is expressed clearly and evenly, without ever disrespecting us or the family's grief.
Rapp includes some quirky anecdotes, to illustrate the pervasive insanity of The Son's predicament. The girlfriend who feels palpable, sensual love for this lost soul, but finally cannot fracture his self-loathing. The father taking his easy chair into orbit. I think Rapp is making a good faith effort to explore this shadowland with delicacy and accuracy, without dragging us into a rapacious abyss. The real terror of Nocturne is embedded in the epiphany that nightmares can be injected into our lives for no reason whatsoever. We are left to endure the excruciating curse until (and only if) we can break the spell. What if it taints the rest our lives? What if healing means diminishing the memory of a precious soul?
This review would not be complete without recognizing the exceptional Drew Wall, whose extensive list of credits includes : Defiance, Red Light Winter, Lobby Hero and On the Eve. Mr. Wall has demonstrated, repeatedly, his fearless, remarkable skill for genuinely inhabiting his roles, drawing us into the lives of his characters with raw, formidable, frail humanity, and certainly Nocturne is a splendid example. He holds the stage for 100 minutes, inviting us on his melancholy, chilly, aching odyssey with masterful finesse. He evinces the frantic, damaged heart of our distraught collective conscience without apology or vacillation. If he's brave enough to swim this dark river, how can we possibly say, “No.” ?
Second Thought Theatre presents Adam Rapp's Nocturne, playing April 2nd-26th, 2014. Bryant Hall at Kalita Humphries Theater between Turtle Creek and the Katy Trail, just off Blackburn. 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75219. secondthoughttheatre.com. 1-866-811-4111.