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One-man show “Nocturne” opens at the Rep

By John Angell Grant, Special to the Planet
Saturday October 20, 2001

The two Rapp brothers were not joined at birth, but they are joined in“Nocturne,” a play which opened Wednesday on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s thrust stage as the first show in that company’s Parallel Season of less-traditional stage works. 

Thirty-three-year-old playwright Adam Rapp is the author of this award-winning one-man play. His younger brother, 29-year-old Anthony Rapp, is the performer. 

“Nocturne” premiered last fall at Cambridge's American Repertory Theater. It won Boston's Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding New Script, and Best New Play by the Independent Reviewers of New England. It was later selected as one of the Burns Mantle 10 Best Plays of the 2000-2001 season. 

Playwright Adam Rapp has a substantial literary resume, including more than a half-dozen stage works. In addition, his published novels include: “Missing the Piano” (Viking/HarperCollins), “The Buffalo Tree” (Front Street/HarperCollins), and “The Copper Elephant” (Front Street/HarperCollins). 

Anthony has an equally-impressive performance resume, with many New York stage credits. Most notably, he originated the role of Mark Cohen in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rent.” 

Anthony’s film performances include “Adventures in Babysitting,” “Road Trip,” and Ron Howard's upcoming “A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crowe. He recently released a solo rock CD “Look Around.” 

“Nocturne” is a 90-minute show with no intermission. It tells the disturbing story of a 32-year-old writer sitting up all night in a spartan, book-strewn, New York East Village apartment, narrating to the audience how his unhappy life has played out since he decapitated his 9-year-old sister in an automobile accident 15 years earlier. That accident destroyed all family relationships.  

The telling of “Nocturne” becomes the narrator’s struggle to navigate back through this tragedy and see if there’s any way that he, or his remaining family members can recover their lives. 

An insomniac up all night in the darkest hours of isolation, this nameless narrator, known as The Son, meditates on the worst nightmare of his life. 

“Nocturne” divides into three story segments. In the first, the narrator tells of circumstances leading up to and immediately following the death. The second segment describes his ensuing flight to New York and isolation from the world. The third is his attempt to reconnect 15 years later. 

Despite its shocking story and gory details, the first segment is the Achilles heel in this play. Here we understand that the narrator has played the tragic death episode over and over in his mind for 15 years, hoping to see it some different way. 

As a writer, he analyzes the language of his accounts of the tragedy, looking for more meaning. 

Though it's a powerful segment initially, it goes on and on and eventually loses some of that power. You can squeeze only so much drama out of a traumatized man who has disconnected from the world, remaining obsessively isolated. 

Further, a couple of early story elements (the sister’s death, the father’s gun) threaten to play like potboiler fiction. 

Performance-wise, it also seems in this segment, the story underneath the text asks to be played against the grain of the text on the surface. But with Rapp's earnest and obsessive performance, he and director Mark Brokaw have chosen not to do that. 

In the second story segment, the family implodes after the death. The narrator flees his hometown in Illinois for New York's East Village, a minimalist job in a used book store and a literary career in isolation. 

Finally, 15 years later, he revisits a dying father to find some connection and peace after years of estrangement. 

This last segment is the most satisfying, since we finally experience a connected human relationship, as actor Rapp plays dialogue scenes between himself and his father. 

Set designer Neil Patel’s unusual, long, narrow, back-lit, horizontal panel extends the width of a dark, book-littered bare stage. Initially, the panel’s imposing light communicates late night insomnia. Later it reveals strings of words from the life of the emerging writer. Finally, it relaxes into a snowfall. 

“Nocturne” is a play about finding a way to grow beyond development-stopping traumas, and out of the pain and fear of isolation. It’s about working through deep grief and coming back to emotional life and sensibility, even if it’s years later. 

And perhaps because the audience spends a long time in the emotional desert of the show’s lengthy opening segment, when the reconnection and recovery payoff finally come in “Nocturne,” it is a moving experience. 




Daily Planet theater reviewer John Angell Grant has written for American Theatre, Back Stage West, Callboard and many other publications. E-mail him at