Reviewed by George Basler
Jake Wentlent and Chris Nickerson must be two of the most adventurous actors in Broome County.
In the dog days of August, when the thoughts of many don’t extend beyond the beach and a cold drink, the two have taken on the daunting challenge of acting in a pair of one-character plays. The production, One Act/One Actor, opened Thursday (Aug. 2) at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott.
And not only are Wentlent and Nickerson totally alone on the stage, with no place to hide, but their chosen vehicles are dark, complex one-act plays that surely will polarize their audiences.
Then again, the production, presented by Clocktower Theater Company, gives both actors a chance to show off their skills, which is something they do in spades. Both are at the top of their games and give intense, multi-layered performances.
The show’s opener is Thom Pain, whichearned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for its author, Will Eno. The nightcap is Wrecks by Neil LaBute, a controversial playwright known for his bleak view of human nature.
Thom Pain requires Wentlent to deliver a meandering monologue without a conventional plot. The narrator is obviously going through an emotional crisis, but the nature of the crisis is never made clear. Instead, the character rambles on, and on. His monologue mixes bizarre digressions, purposely bad jokes and obtuse observations of life, and flashes of anger and loneliness.
In short, the play is about as unconventional as it comes. Some audience members may find it intriguing and challenging; others could find it incoherent and infuriating. Some will dismiss it as just plain weird. But there’s no denying the strength and skill of Wentlent’s performance.
Wentlent, like a skilled jazz musician, changes mood and tone throughout the hour-long play. He taunts the audience at times and works to engage sympathy for the character at others. He skillfully mixes riffs of surreal comedy with moments of painful introspection.
Most of all, Wentlent commands the stage. Eno’s play may be self-indulgent; Wentlent’s performance never is.
Wrecks is a more conventional undertaking. In it, Edward Carr (Nickerson), a successful Midwestern businessman, reminisces about his wife during calling hours at her funeral. The action takes place in an anteroom of the funeral home where the casket is prominently on display.
Nickerson, a veteran of numerous local productions, can always be counted on to give good performances. His performance in Wrecks, though, is at another level. It is quite simply mesmerizing and shattering.
The play focuses on Edward’s all-consuming love for his late wife. While this initially seems touching, the feeling slowly gives way to a queasy uncertainty about the nature of their relationship. The ending, which I won’t divulge, is totally shocking.
Nickerson gives a performance of great finesse as he catches all facets of this complex character. Puffing on cigarette after cigarette, he prowls the stage slowly revealing dark thoughts and deep wounds that lie beneath his character’s placid Midwestern surface. The finale requires the actor to retain the audience’s understanding and sympathy, even as he confesses something that has warped his entire life. Nickerson does this supremely well.
To summarize, Wentlent and Nickerson took a gamble that paid off with two excellent acting roles.
Their skill and daring are to be applauded.
But, be forewarned, the evening is a challenging one.
IF YOU GO: Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. today and Sunday (Aug. 4-5) and Aug. 9-12 at Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Tickets are $18-$28; purchase online at clocktowertheater, thundertix.com or call 607-778-9617.
Cider Mill Stage shows off fine acting in challenging plays
Reviewed by George Basler