BWW Review: The Blank Theatre's Living Room Series Takes NATHAN C. JONES: A LOVE STORY? Online
"May you live in interesting times," has taken on new meaning in 2020 amid the current world health crisis. No one could have imagined a scenario like this where theater doors would be forced to close indefinitely. And yet, they have. But you can't dampen the heart of an artist for they will always find a way to create. That resilience is what should inspire us all as we continue to look to the future.
The Blank Theatre has a long history of keeping its eye on the future. For the last 30 years, The Blank has nurtured countless artists with its Young Playwrights Festivals, developmental Living Room Series, and fully-produced mainstage productions, all led by the impeccable Daniel Henning. And while the Living Room Series is unable to continue in person for now it has found a new outlet online, just as compelling. Two thought-provoking solo works are currently being presented: NIXON ON NIXON, a new play by Sean Waldron starring Rob Nagle, and NATHAN C. JONES: A LOVE STORY?, a new musical by Vanessa Claire Stewart and Brendan Milburn starring Amir Levi.
On the surface, NATHAN C. JONES appears to be an unassuming little show about a young man and his new romance. But, as the audience is drawn further and further into the story, it becomes clear that the writers are exploring much deeper questions about loneliness, the desire to be loved, and what happens when reality sits on shifting sands.
The 50-minute piece plays out episodically in Nathan's living room beginning with a call from Chad that establishes their ongoing relationship. As Nathan realizes Chad could be the one, it brings out all of Nathan's hopes, dreams, doubts, and insecurities in a series of stream of consciousness scenes and songs that provide a window into the thought process of a mentally fragile individual.
Milburn's music is light and airy, with a decidedly upbeat musical theatre sensibility that functions as a running "soundtrack" for Nathan thinking through his days. The exception (and best of the lot) is a song in which Nathan builds up the courage to friend Chad on Facebook. It captures the wistfulness of wanting to be accepted and loved, giving depth to both the character and the overall production. Lyric duties are shared by Milburn and Stewart, whose deceptively simple book keeps its secrets until the big reveal but drops clues along the way.
Henning directs with a light touch. He knows exactly when to highlight a moment and when to pull back and let the writing do the work. This is a recorded and edited version of a theatre piece - with none of the artists working in the same space - and a unique example of modern-day guerrilla theatre reinvented for a new age. The world they've created is intentionally elusive and Levi never overplays his hand. He makes Nathan an odd, but likable sad sack of a human being; at times, a vulnerable underdog you really hope gets his happy ending and, at others, a train-wreck you can't look away from. Chances are you know a Nathan or two without even realizing it. Don't leave before the epilogue which brings everything into perspective.
NATHAN C. JONES: A LOVE STORY? is a quirky slice of life that hits home in today's off-kilter reality. It may not be the musical you expect but it is most definitely the musical we need. Relevant? There's no question about it.
Two additional performances will stream live on June 4 and 11 at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT at www.youtube.com/TheBlankTheatreCo. [Updated, now extended through July 4]. You can comment in the chat box while the show is streaming which creates a fun way to engage with the rest of the audience, or you can eliminate the chat if you want to watch the production full screen. The show will be available for three weeks and will then move to The Blank's Third Stage on Patreon. There is no charge to watch the performances however you are encouraged to make a donation which will go to the artists who created the show HERE. For more about the Blank Theatre visit www.theblank.com.
Photos courtesy of The Blank Theatre