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Sitting in the Dark

Dark Play or Stories for Boys & The Year of Magical Thinking

Dark, dark works launch "Sitting in the Dark"
Dark Play or Stories for Boys & The Year of Magical Thinking
Published on February 26, 2011 : 1 comment

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It is with the intervention of fortuitous serendipity that this, the inaugural appearance of a column called “Sitting in the Dark,” should highlight Dark Play or Stories for Boys, where the abyss of a darkened theatre has rarely been so foreboding, so central to the success of a play.

Dark Play or Stories for Boys

The light, when it comes at all in this darkest of works set in a black-blacker-blackest void, is used ever so sparingly. The eerie glow of a laptop, the digital whisper of illumination from a cell phone, the stabbing shaft of a knife-like baby spot; all go far in setting a sinister tone for this celebration of minimalism that explores themes of sex, lies and videotape - okay, actually webcams - as teens are swallowed in the swirling eddies of the worldwide web.

The program lists only seven actors, but Steven L. Williams’ lighting design deserves its own place on the marquee for its ability to pierce the night as our anti-hero, Nick (Bill Grennan), pierces the psyches of all in his orbit.

Particularly dramatic is a series of what are the equivalent of flashlight-under-the-chin scenes in which Grennan, his eye sockets rendered as black holes capable of absorbing a galaxy of stars, takes on the mien of such ghoulish creatures as the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the 1920 masterpiece of German Expressionism, or Boris Karloff in … well, anything you’ve ever seen Karloff in.

Grennan, often associated with comedic roles, is here a virtuoso when it comes to the powers of an arched eyebrow or a lip-curling sneer, the kind that begins with the faintest of twitches and swells, crushing everyone in its path, to become a “Full McDowell.”

A Full McDowell?

You know, like the trademark visage on a 1971 poster for a certain Kubrick film featuring an equally monstrous Alex DeLarge, with blade glistening in the light, just as one does in the penultimate scene of Dark Play. Like the chellovek in the Kubrick flick, McDowell’s Alex and Grennan’s Nick are both a not so tender 14. The pair would surely be the best of droogs if their worlds could somehow collide.

Also splendid is Steve Hartman as Adam, the awkward object of Nick’s affection. And look for slivers of light to shine on a strong performance from Olivia Saither as Rachel. Purely a creation of Nick’s twisted imagination, Rachel is the siren that sets off sirens in Adam’s thick head as Nick, our Machiavellian protagonist, baits his trap. But who is the hunter and who is the hunted in this web-based web of deceit?

See for yourself in this darkly comic psychological thriller that chalks up another must-see success for Director Amy Lane and the theatre program of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Dark Play or Stories for Boys runs through March 5 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The Year of Magical Thinking

One of the great things about seeing so much theatre is that I often find myself making puzzling discoveries. The most puzzling – and therefore the most rewarding – come in the form of that which I’ve known all along but, for some inexplicable reason, didn’t really know at all.

As the lights went down the other night to usher in The Year of Magical Thinking, the one-woman show at the Circle Theatre that continues through March 12, a voice-over prelude fired the synapses in my brain to reveal (Reveal? Is that the right word? Yes. “Reveal”) the latest dossier to be registered in the archive of “that which I’ve known all along but, for some inexplicable reason, didn’t really know at all.

Simply put, Barb Ross has one of the most distinctive voices in all of Omaha theater. Some of you, the ones familiar with Ross’ work, didn’t need a visual to accompany the disembodied words of the voice-over to instantly recognize the Ross-ness unfolding in the dark.

(Here we go again! Is this what we can expect in every column from this guy? Yammering on about the “Full McDowell” and “Ross-ness?”)

And what a voice it is.

Somewhat formal and clipped without being too hoity, let alone toity, her gerunds are never without the requisite ‘g’ and her diction is such that any word ending in ‘t’ promises a mini-explosion as the tip of a tongue caroms off her teeth.

Hers is the sort of speaking voice that harbors echoes of a black-and-white era, a time before the language and its usage died with the advent of … here’s where you, the reader, get to select from such decade-specific options as the zoot suit, hula hoop, the lava lamp, Big Bird, Alex P. Keaton or, now, the return of the lava lamp. Cap it off with the hint of a lisp that isn’t at all a lisp and Ross is perfectly suited to soar in this autobiographical tragic-comedy of the life and times of author Joan Didion.

In the subterranean world of the Circle Theatre under the powerful direction of Deana Schweiger, the tragic death of a husband and, later, a daughter, qualifies as lighter fare this week when compared to Dark Play.

The icing on this bejeweled cake is original music from local composer Amanda Louise Miller.

My favorite interlude? The one that had eight identical piano notes being played at a hauntingly slow pace before they were elbowed aside by a trio or so of their atonal sisters. Both works, The Year of Magical Thinking and Dark Play or Stories for Boys are finely-crafted, well-acted highs dealing in despair and the lowest of lows.

Have you attended either of these shows? What did you think? Leave us your comments below.

VerstehenDavid Williams is a longtime performing arts critic whose ramblings have appeared in such publications as The Reader and The City Weekly, among several others.


Anonymous (not verified) says:

February 28, 2011 : 13 years 16 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

I attended Dark Play on opening night, and I was simply astounded by this work. The play was staged beautifully by Dr. Amy Lane and the lighting design by Steven Williams was remarkable. I was drawn in at the first laptop opening and loved the bookend. The lighting was chilling and scary but the ending evolved into an array of color and beauty. I hope that the OEA and TAG nominee committee was in attendance to see this one. Congratulations to UNO Theatre.

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