POP: Crystal on Nerve

What is POP (aka) Playwrights-On-Playwrights?
Who else is POPing Adam Szymkowicz?

Up third: Crystal Skillman on Adam Szymkowicz’s

Crystal’s plays include The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, Hack! an I.T. Spaghetti Western, as well as Birthday which will make it’s U.K debut at the East Waterloo Theatre this August.

Nerve has been produced in NYC, St Louis, Miami, Asheville, Philadelphia, and beyond. For more information about Nerve, check out Adam’s website. Nerve is published by Dramatists Play Service, and is available here and here.

Nerve: The Teeny Little Corners of Fears and Longing

It’s time to jump into this Adam Szymkowicz blog fest! I do love chattin’ plays and I hope my responses are true to what I’d share with you as we’d order cups of Joe at Joes’s on Waverly, as I’ll be sharing thoughts as a fellow playwright of course. Also, my responses to Adam’s work can’t help but be tainted with the personal. I got to know Adam really well and we become good friends when I helped support his production of Food for Fish at the Kraine back in the day. At the same time, he invited me to see a production of a little play going up at the same time called Nerve🙂

Seeing Nerve was really a great experience. The play unfolded perfectly in a rockstar production by the talented Packawallop Productions and I was bowled over by it, so impressed. And I’m very lucky, and thankful, for the friendships as well as artistic collaborations that emerged from that night! I actually recently wrote about this in my 5 Questions Interview for the Clyde Fitch Report that I was honored to be asked to do by Leonard Jacobs with the very awesome Susan Louise O’Conner who was in my play The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, now nominated for an NY IT Award, at the Brick a few months ago. You can check out that original post here which also features a short play by Adam: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2010/04/special-5-questions-crystal-skillman-interviews-susan-louise-oconnor/

So it’s clear Nerve rocks my world. But why? For sure, it’s the kinda play you can bounce a quarter off of because it’s so tight but for me the best part is it has these teeny little corners that appear as openings in this conversation where we peer into the most inner longings and fears of Elliot and Susan on their first date. Here we see the internal become external is really great ways. We get to watch them “actively” date, as Larry mentions, and it feels very grounded in so many ways, but with an awesome heightened tone.

ELLIOT. I think you can tell when you meet someone like whether or not you’re going to get along with them.
SUSAN. Sure.
ELLIOT. But until … I suppose, before the kiss, the first kiss. I mean that’s everything.
SUSAN. I don’t know that I … what do you mean everything?
ELLIOT. The entire future of the couple is in that first kiss. Because from that kiss you know how it’s going to be, whether or not it’s going to work at all or if it’s just not supposed to happen and until that first kiss, you really have no idea of anything.

Not unlike one of my fav plays The Long Christmas Dinner by ye wonderful Thornton Wilder, the best part of the play is how it escalates. We not only go through one night of a date, but really the ride of a relationship from the issue of family (I crack up every time I read Elliot asking her to join his family on their trip in like the first few pages, and how it comes back at the end) to their friends both helpful and also destructive. All of this chips away at the deep pain of these individuals who in many ways are not ready to find the other one at all. But in finding each other are making each other ready.

What makes the play in some ways perhaps more interesting than Long Christmas Dinner is that it does it all through the conversation. Simply in the words. People don’t need to reenter and appear to be getting older. In Nerve they are maturing in the moment, making leaps and bounds towards letting go of their desperation and becoming something bigger than their own personal issues. They are starting to question the pain they are holding onto with knives they use to cut themselves in purses or restraining orders.

It’s sharing their pain that forces each other to stay because they’re hooked to see what will happen as we are. By forcing each other to stay they must listen to one another. By doing that, they’re starting to let go.

Which to me, is the point of a relationship, which the drama I love captures.

The icing on the cake is the wonderful glimpses into the internal, emotional life of Susan and Elliot as they strive to get to that kiss. That stuff can be hard to dramatize without going crazy or going overboard with it. But Adam does it so, so well. It doesn’t feel gimmicky at all, really seamless. He makes puppets of ex-girlfriends who abuse him, and she dances in secret.

SUSAN. (Getting up.) You don’t know where the bathroom is, do you?
ELLIOT. Over there, I think. That might be the kitchen. I would try over there.
SUSAN. Thanks. (Susan moves off as if to go to the bathroom. Elliot can’t see her. The lights and music change. Elliot takes out his cell phone and dials. Susan does a dance of joy, a combination of ballet and mod- earn dance that is hopeful yet grounded. When she finishes, she runs off the stage …

When she dances, like the above, for the first time with a hint or hope of love, our heart leaps. And how it leads to Susan going back to her self destructive behavior of cutting herself at the end is really devastating.

At first when I saw the production, I totally got what was happening – all by the visual. Sitting in the audience was a little scared when Susan started to explain what these dances were. “Oh no! Unnecessary exposition! I don’t need it! Just let it stand,” I thought. But then that went to a great place and I started laughing like crazy.

SUSAN. I used to dance and sometimes when I get bored or upset I choreograph dances in my mind.
ELLIOT. Lots of tiny dancers.
SUSAN. Yeah. Or like when someone’s yelling at me.
ELLIOT. Why are people yelling at you?
SUSAN. What is that supposed to mean?
ELLIOT. I’m just asking. People yell at you a lot?
SUSAN. The last guy I was dating. When we fought I would have dancing in my head. I do it when I’m bored too.
ELLIOT. Are you doing it tonight?
ELLIOT. I have to keep you entertained.

That’s what I love about Adam as I writer. I love going where his details and these detailed, obsessive, addictive and addicting characters lead you. Adam makes these intimate details in many ways the action of the play. Elliot does have to keep her entertained or she’ll hurt herself. The stakes are huge, but it unfolds in a seemingly causal conversation that is anything but casual and the play itself is that conversation. I really admire that. Adam’s plays hinge on the little things that are in fact really devastating. What we try to hide from one another. Our deepest desires.

SUSAN. It’s important you believe me.

That’s what ultimately, to me, makes Nerve a great read and production – it gets into the bodies of these characters that really remind us of us on a good and bad day. All at once there we are at our extremes and very most ordinary. At our most witty and simple. And we want those we care about (or are afraid we care about) to believe that we care. Nerve is simple about what matters – that kiss does wait out there. It’s a matter of knowing what it means when it comes. At least for that moment, being able to give over to it by being selfless. Transforming.

Diving into Nerve is like that and, as someone who saw the debut, it has a rare quality in that it possesses the same feeling in both seeing the production and reading the play.

There’s a lot to learn from Adam’s beats and shifts in this play and where and how they lead … it really does remind you of what it means to become bigger than yourself and your own obsessions.

To let go.

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