Poetry 101 Nocturne proves there's a fine line between bullshit and brilliance
If I told you my grandmother welcomed me into her house, a grave robber hot off a bender of digging up corpses, what would you think? Am I brilliant, or am I full of bullshit? If you answered the latter, you're correct. That is a bullshit metaphor, which, while colorful and readily imaginable, tells you absolutely nothing about my grandmother's disposition, or how I was greeted, or what it meant to either of us. If, however, you liked that creation, then you'll love Rude Guerrilla's latest offering, playwright Adam Rapp's Nocturne.
I could have a field day shredding what some have proclaimed Rapp's "rich" language, but instead, I'll just give you a sample: Heat coming through a car window like a quilt; gliding like a cigar-store Indian; fury smelling of undercooked pork; a warship in drag; wind as cold as Novocain; something like an imperfect homemade ratchet; a bloodless stone in the throat. If you've seen or felt any of these images, please stop bogarting the J and pass it on.
And thus, Rapp's play, directed by Jay Michael Fraley, is one bloodless stone to swallow (we recall most of them being bloodless, however). Built on language so poetically forced that bowling balls shoved into my eye sockets would have been easier to take (a Rapp-sian nod here), this mostly monologued story might have had merit if I weren't being hammered at every turn by Rapp's weighty self-indulgence.
The outline has some promise—a 17-year-old accidentally runs over and decapitates his 9-year-old sister. The tragedy rips the family apart, with the mother eventually going nuts and sitting on a park bench singing "Old MacDonald" (which I also don't get, but hey, it's kooky, and that's what counts). The father offers to blow his son's brains out, which prompts the son to run away to New York, where he becomes a novelist and writes the fictionalized story of the tragedy to moderate success. We, the audience, have no idea why the parents react the way they do—after all, it was an accident, and he is their son—but whatever.
Now we're in New York, where the son discovers he's impotent after he meets what I'll call the highly fictionalized "Girl Who Will Save You." I've been told by umpteen novels, movies, plays and songs that this girl exists, and men are searching for her far and wide. This saintly (and, of course, breathtakingly gorgeous) girl even stays with the son after she finds out they can't have sex because hey, girls don't really care about stuff like that—apparently, as long as you make them laugh, it doesn't matter how big you are or when you can perform.
The son, being chivalrous and not wanting the girl to go without any bungle in the jungle, breaks it off and wallows in the tragic shadow he can't shake. News soon comes that the father is dying, so the son reluctantly goes to his side. I won't give away the ending . . . but that's because I'm not sure there is one. While many tangible things do occur in this story (amid the snarled and knotted imagery), the emotional core—the character's journey into self and back out again—remains a mystery.
And while characters don't always have to have some bonfire of enlightenment or a dramatic shift in thought, if a weight is eventually lifted (which seems to be the case here), goddamn it, let us know what it is and how it happened. You don't need to skywrite it over our heads like some fruity Lindbergh, just take time off from the tilt-a-whirl tongue and give us the dialogue (or monologue) bits that actually reveal something internal about the person we're supposed to be getting to know. Or else we end up like cocooned butterflies on a salty beach island. Or something like that.
Nocturne at the Rude Guerrilla Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547 4688; www.rudeguerrilla.org. Sat., 4:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through Aug. 31. $10-$20.