Azuka Theatre's well-cast production overcomes plot problems.
Before their first face-to-face meeting, Elliot (Charlie DelMarcelle) and Susan (Leah Walton) know each other only by their online profiles and brief correspondence by email. Elliot and Susan’s online chats have gone well, but neither is nearly as relaxed or confident when seated across the table from each. The result is a night with the potential for disaster.
The pair’s initial date includes a Michael Moore film and dinner. It’s clear from the outset that Elliot and Susan aren’t a match made in heaven.
He is a serial monogamist who moves from one obsessive relationship to the next. She is comfortable living alone. She smokes reefer; he doesn’t. He is a work-at-home copy editor; she is a receptionist for a penile-enhancement company who spends her nights working the phones at a suicide-prevention hotline.
They do have a few things in common. Neither handles stress very well (a major deficiency considering the anxiety generated by a first date). Elliot is susceptible to panic attacks, and when Susan (who describes herself as suffering from borderline personality disorder) is stressed out she cuts herself.
Complicating matters is the fact that neither has a particularly good relationship history. Elliot is an obsessive lover whose last girlfriend was forced to take out a restraining order. During the date, Susan receives periodic phone calls from her persistent ex-boyfriend who has forgotten to take his meds.
Nevertheless, despite the obvious obstacles, Elliot and Susan discover they have a mutual attraction and their first kiss is intensely (not to mention amusingly) passionate.
Nerve’s quick-witted dialogue is reminiscent of the banter heard in the romantic film comedies of yesterday, but the play boasts a modern sensibility. A multi- discipline work that incorporates charmingly bizarre dance sequences (Karen Getz’s over-the-top choreography is hilarious) and puppetry, Szymkowicz balances the line between fantasy and reality. Kevin Glaccum’s sure-handed direction manages Nerve ’s various elements nicely and DelMarcelle and Walton are excellent at evoking the chemistry between their characters.
Not everything in Nerve works perfectly. The play’s plotting is suspect, but Szymkowicz has a keen ear for dialogue and is an expert at capturing not only the tension, but also the highs and lows of a first date.
Elliot and Susan are both troubled, but DelMarcelle and Walton give such strong performances that we soon find ourselves hoping that this dysfunctional couple will find love in each other’s arms. The play’s conclusion (which manages to be sweet without being sappy) is immensely satisfying, and while Nerve isn’t great art, Azuka’s endearingly scruffy production is evidence that theater doesn’t need to be majestic to be entertaining.
Calendar: December 17-24
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PW's Holiday Guide 2014