On Sundays Gothamist runs opinion pieces relevant to life in New York and reviews of recent books and performances. The judgments expressed below are entirely those of the author.

2006_05_arts_nightnrsun.JPGLiving in New York, where there’s constantly something to do, a show to see or an underground club to party at or a protest in a park, it’s hard to imagine living someplace where boredom reigns, and drives people nutty. In Don Zolidis’ A Night Near the Sun, some of the residents of a small Wisconsin town are doing everything they can – and there aren’t many options – to escape the tedious everyday reality of their lives. Mostly this means doing drugs, but each person also has some other, more secret way of getting away, and these secrets swirl around and charge the atmosphere, pushing the characters toward tragedy. Despite this potent mix, the play has some scenes that get fairly draggy, but Impetuous Theater Group’s talented cast more than redeems the production – mostly quite young, they give it 110% (even with a tiny audience like the one at the performance I attended), and the result is often riveting.

Probably the best way to describe the plot, as well as to give a sense of what worked and what didn’t, is just to go through the character lineup. Eric (Michael Rudez) is a 22-year-old misfit who spends most of his time sequestered in a barn – indeed, we learn that until he was 16, his mother kept him there and didn’t allow him to meet anyone. Though this wasn’t, we later find, meant as abuse, Eric not surprisingly wanted out, and found his savior, via the internet, in a local guy his age named Andy (Zachary Fletcher), an aspiring poet who breaks Eric out and introduces him to the real world, or at least drugs and girls, particularly Andy’s girlfriend Kristi (Reyna de Courcy), who is still in high school and aggressively sexual. Eric also connects for some reason with an older drug dealer named Troy (played with perfectly apt greasiness by Brian Linden), who feeds off the desperate youths as he tries to avoid dealing with his unhappy marriage to a headstrong tart (Louise, played by the fantastic Cidele Curo, who is criminally underused) and make his lame life seem worth living.

The central story that develops as a result of these characters washing into each others’ lives is less interesting as a whole than in its various parts, and certainly less than some of the revelatory acting that goes on. Kristi and Andy quarrel for some reason; she disappears, and comes back after two days with a hazy story about a blackout and waking up on the side of the road. When it emerges that before the blackout she had met up with Troy, the stage is set for Eric (who is terribly in love with her) to take revenge, and though anyone sane, approaching the situation calmly, would say that obviously goes too far, Rudez has been so convincing in portraying Eric’s hopelessness and self-loathing and existential confusion that you go almost sympathize with his actions – you can palpably sense how what he does invigorates him. But though Eric seems at first to be the center of the play, and his role probably is the largest, it is Kristi who really drives everything, not least because de Courcy shines so brightly in bringing her to life. One of the most powerful scenes is when Kristi describes how she sees her abusive, alcoholic father rotting alive on the couch, while her mother endures a slow and painful death of cancer upstairs because they “can’t afford” to take her to a hospital. Unfortunately, Zolidis doesn’t do much more with this, so de Courcy’s heartbreaking confession of her horror and sadness kind of just evaporates, though obviously not without first leaving a serious impression. Kristi also becomes so central because of how gender relations develop as one of the play’s main themes – or rather, not so much relations as men seeing women as property and pawns, as things to project their fears and hopes and feelings of power or inadequacy onto. Zolidis’ take in turn on Kristi’s self-perception is more than a little discomfiting, but de Courcy really pulls it off.

As a play, A Night Near the Sun has some very engaging sequences, but can seem sprawling, and is marred by some speechifying and reliance on dream-type sequences; it’s also, at least in this production, excessively bare-bones, with Eric’s barn as the only backdrop. But watching de Courcy as Kristi struggling to make the others comprehend her pain, or Rudez showing Eric’s heavy aura of awkwardness and anxiousness to please and fit in, or Troy smiling sleazily as he describes his conquests (real or imagined), is immensely satisfying, so you make connections and believe in what Zolidis has written despite yourself. And when you leave the theater and are assaulted by the wonderful hustle and bustle that is New York, their performances go with you, as you think both of how sensitively they showed the anomie and frustration of small-town life even though their personal daily experience is of this crazy city, and of how everyone should come here to see that there is excitement and stimulation to be had in life without needing to resort to drugs and dangerous delusions of grandeur.

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