In the United States, a little over 25% of the population suffers from some degree of mental illness. The next time you are in a crowd take a good look around. As the old saying goes, are you on the bus or off the bus?
“Nerve” is the name of the play by Adam Szymkowicz now being produced by “none too fragile theater” of Akron. What does the title mean? I donno. What is the play about? Ditto. “Nerve” is a dark psychological romantic(?) comedy that is disturbing and riveting at the same time. It deals with two functioning but obviously off kiltered souls who are desperate to find a place to belong and a person to belong to.
Susan (Kelly Strand) is a plain looking youngish woman who works as a receptionist at a penal implant center and volunteers evenings with the local suicide prevention hotline. She has issues and baggage…a lot of issues and baggage. To be blunt, she makes Virginia Wolfe look like Pollyanna. Her entire demeanor is made up of small clues that show a young woman who is one missed med away from a total breakdown. Susan is an old hand at computer dating and juggling relationships. Whenever conditions get too overwhelming she breaks out in a spontaneous private dance. She is formerly bulimic and still practices self harm (cutting herself) when the stress level gets too high and she needs to release the pressure.
Elliot (Brian Kenneth Armour) is around the same age and height as Susan (just rounder). He is self employed but spends most of his time staring out the window at his neighborhood. He likes to make puppets that look like old girl friends that he talks to. He has been arrested for stalking…twice, and has restraining orders still in place from his last two girl friends. His first computer date never showed up.
After meeting on-line at a computer dating site and a flurry of e-mails the pair end up at a neighborhood bar after their first movie date. As the evening goes on and after a few beers they square off for a game of “Who is crazier…you or me?” From this they go to the first kiss, then the second kiss, then on and on while the jukebox plays an old R&B number. Then they fall in love, then decide to have sex in the restroom (within earshot of the rest of the bar) then fall out of love then kiss and fall back in love as the light fades to black. That pretty much sums it up.
The overall theme of this one hour and twenty minute exercise seems to be “can a neurotic and a sociopath find true love through computer dating”. As the play goes on you find red flags, whistles, bells, sirens and fog horns going off in secession. You want to stand up and shout, “Hey! Let go of each other and go back to your own apartments and never see each other again!” This is not to say that the work is without its comedic moments. There are quite a few mixed in with the angst.
As for “none too fragile’s” take on this? It is brilliant. They are one of those small theatrical enclaves that you find tucked away in the most unusual of places. In this case, they work the back room of Pub Bricco located at 1835 Merriman Road in Akron (nice bar atmosphere and gourmet hamburgers plus mixed drinks served in oversized martini glasses). The cast and crew are made up of less than a dozen people who are totally dedicated to bringing cutting edge theater one show at a time.
As for “Nerve”, the charactors of Brian and Kelly are fantastic vehicals for revealing little quirks and psycho-clues as the beers go down and the evening goes on. In the end you begin to have feelings for them in spite of your misgivings, but as they say, somewhere in the world, there is someone just waiting for each of us to love and be loved by.
This intimate theater has seating for just a little over fifty. The chairs all match and are quite comfortable to sit in. It is tiered seating in which each seat is a good one. The seating layout across from the entrance does have an inconvience situation for those arriving later and having to make their way past already seated members to the seats in the back row, but all in all it is a well though out arrangement.
The set for the play is quite simple. It is made up of a wooden bar booth with two small tables “welded” to each other. On the tables are a stack of napkins (which are used quite effectively as props) plus a set of plastic salt and pepper shakers (that are not used). The tables and booth sit up on a low square stage. Off in the corner is an old style jukebox. Lighting is well placed and just enough to set the mood without overpowering it. Sound is kept at room temperature and does not annoy. Elliot is dressed in blue jeans and a rolled up dark print button down shirt and a sleeveless button down sweater. He looks nice but a bit nerdy and needy. Susan is in a black and white printed sun dress and a long sleeve sweater that hides the scars on her arms. She has light purple socks that are at odd angles to each other and saddle shoes. If you passed her on the street you would not sense the passion that lies beneath the surface of this smoldering volcano. Her mood during the play trades between figity to anger to crying jags back to figity and repeat as needed.
As the two begin to feel each other out (and up) there are bursts of anger that slips out from time to time as they try to hold back the torrent of emotion that they are failing to keep in check inside. These are two people on a precipice in which one slip of the tongue and both will be flung into the abyss. In seeing this play I guarantee that it will remind you of someone you know or knew and an involuntary shudder will flow through your body from your head to your toes. As for the title, perhaps it has to do with "striking an exposed nerve" which it does to many members of the audience. This is a good thing for it is a play that makes you stop and think.
Prude Alert: As per usual these days the F bomb and S bomb are dropped with some frequency (at times shouted) and there is an off stage sex xcene that audibly leaves no doubt as to what is going on. The subject matter that is dealt with is mental illness and there are some pretty intense scenes including one where blood is shown. Patrons are invited to bring their drinks from the bar into the theater area (but no food). If situations like this make you uncomfortable, then sit this one out.
Shooting from the Lip (My Last Words): “Nerve” is a dark psycho comedy/drama that asks, “Can a neurotic and a sociopath find true love through computer dating?” The answer may surprise you, or if you’re in the mental minority, maybe not.
Elliot, Brian Kenneth Armour
Susan, Kelly Strand
Directed by: Sean Derry
Dance Choreograpy: Kelly Strand
Stage Manager/Prop Master: Chuck “Rooster” Bonakoski
Set Designer: Sean Derry
Set Construction: Chuck “Rooster” Bonakoski, Steve Brakey, Sean Derry, Jaysen Mercer and Alanna Romansky
Lights: Chuck “Rooster” Bonakoski
Sound: Brian Kenneth Armour and Kelly Strand
Costume Design: Sean Derry
Website, Accounting and Promition: Jaysen Mercer
Permissions: Produced under special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc.
"Nerve" runs at None Too Fragile Theater through September 28.
•Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m.
•Thursday evening show at 7:30 p.m. on September 19th
•Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m. on September 22nd
•Monday evening show at 7:30 p.m. on September 23rd
•Doors open 1/2 hour before show time
FREE valet parking on Friday and Saturday nights, but any tips are appreciated.
Tickets are $20.00 each (or pay as you can at the door) and may be purchased at: http://www.nonetoofragile.com/store/index.html