Posted by: strugglesome | February 14, 2011

The Soloist: Flashpoint Theatre Company’s Nocturne

Playwright and performance artist Deb Margolin is fond of saying, “We live the stories we tell. The stories we don’t tell live us”. And as I watched Flashpoint Theatre Company’s production of Adam Rapp’s haunting and finely crafted Nocturne on Saturday night, it struck me anew how true that statement really is. Because if life comes down to our stories, the collection of events and moments that make us who we are, then telling those story becomes the paramount task of existence. And the story this play tells leaves it’s audience both ravaged and redeemed in it’s wake, reminding us of the important and difficult work of bearing witness to another person’s pain.

The play is essentially an epic poem of sorts, a tale spun out and woven by our very own modern day Homer, a young writer and bookstore employee whose epithet has been reduced to his family title, Son (Kevin Meehan).  Hemmed in by walls made of weighty tomes (set design by Christian Pedone), he fully inhabits his claustrophobic little space, safe in his self imposed papery prison. Addressing the audience directly, he starts with the horrible fact that has fundamentally altered his existence, that is, at the age of 17 he killed his 9 year old sister in a car accident. Calmly and with great self possession, our narrator, as he in fact calls himself, then proceeds the describe the accident, his life in Joilett, Illinois (the playwright’s actual hometown), his family, his escape to New York, his work, all brimming with suppressed rage and baffled frustration, painful labored remembrances masquerading as monologue. From his vivid word pictures we see a portrait of an impossibly repressed Mid-western family completely fractured by disaster, and a young man desperately trying to piece together a life from the wreckage.

Using imagery tied to piano music, supported by sound designer Daniel Perelstein’s moving and minimal design, the piece takes on a musical cadence, a rhythm that is almost metered. Tinkly music box tunes and piano melodies float over the text, There is an ode like quality to this work, but in Meehan’s hands the text avoids being whiny or sleepily lulling, shot through as it is with shame and fury. Instead, Meehan takes on the many challenges of a one person monologue driven play with able grace. To say the audience loves him would be inaccurate, his character is awkward, uncomfortable with people, slightly pathetic, troublingly clinical. When he describes his reaction to his sister’s death he recalls “only a feeling of great clarity and absence”, sending chills up the spines of onlookers. But between Rapp’s text and Meehan’s delivery we are presented with a clear image of a trauma survivor, a person who has pushed through to recovery through sheer willpower and an addiction to literature.

Smoothly paced by director Meghann Williams, the piece moves well at a trim 85 minutes. While other characters are mentioned and introduced, they only exist through the narrator, through his experience of them. But in a piece like this that doesn’t read as narcissism, but feels natural, this is very much one person’s story, one person’s self representation. The narrator may not be the most charming of personalities, but he is deeply sympathetic, if only because in him we see our own baffled bitterness at the way the universe works reflected in his story.  Rapp has created a character who is painfully honest, painful being the operative word, and while we may wince under the onslaught of his narrative, we can’t help but resonate with it. Meehan underlines the sense of this character being divorced from himself as a survival mechanism, disengaging from his identity, his past, his mistakes,  in order to keep going. When he is finally confronted with all three of these things at once, there is a moment of real discovery and transformation on stage and in Meehan that is exciting to watch. It may not be wildly revelatory or earth shaking, but it’s quiet power is moving, highlighting the many little steps we take back from the edge of raw experience. Breakage is easy, mending takes far longer. But it is possible, Rapp tells us, and it is, in fact, an essential part of the human condition to do so. We cannot remain unchanged by our experiences, but neither can we allow them to paralyze us. As we are reminded, “Even the greatest sleeping sea can be awakened by the tide”.

Flashpoint Theatre Company’s Nocturne with run from now until the 26th of February. Tickets are available here.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Flashpoint Theatre, Leah Franqui. Leah Franqui said: The Soloist: Flashpoint Theatre Company's Nocturne […]

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