Adam Rapp’s 'Nocturne' is a play that draws from two other artistic mediums: literature and classical music.
Director and star of the show in Adelaide, Tom Gentry, discusses the challenges that are presented by this compelling work.
Your character, obsessed as he is with novels, communicates in a very literary manner. What challenges does that present as an actor?
That was one of my main concerns when I first read the script. On the one hand, it can make for an immensely captivating show and it means that the character can reveal much more of himself in fewer words; on the other, it can present a risk of a performance more resembling a live recording of an audiobook than a play. Being conscious of this risk during rehearsals is half the battle, though. If at any point I find I am coming off as more of a narrator than an actual person, no matter how much I may have thought I made the right decision, I know I need to change something. I find the ability to ground the performance by keeping myself busy on stage helps a great deal as well.
It is often said that in Western culture, we inadequately cope with grief. What insights do you think 'Nocturne' provides regarding the grieving process?
One of the most common criticisms of the West is our collective tendency to demand instant gratification. If we want something, we want it now, and if we're suffering, we fall over ourselves trying to find a quick, painless solution, often making matters worse in the process. I sort of see theories like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief this way – well-meaning oversimplifications designed to make unpleasant experiences seem less scary. 'Nocturne' touches on this issue, showing that there is no easy way out when it comes to grief. Running from it isn't going to help, but facing it won't fix everything, either. If you have recently lost someone, there is no shortage of things you can do to make the pain easier to bear, but the long and short of it is that life is just going to suck for a while. And, at the risk of sounding like an insufferable prat, that's okay.
You are both starring in the show and directing. What steps do you take to receive feedback during the rehearsal period?
Fortunately, when you do this sort of work, you usually find yourself working closely with other people who have a sound understanding of good storytelling, what you specifically are trying to achieve, and what they, as an audience member, would want to see. If they cover even two of those, they become quite invaluable during rehearsals, especially if, as in my case, you are directing yourself, which can be a substantial pain in the proverbial posterior. They naturally become your go-to people for feedback, but it is important to encourage every member of the production team to contribute to such discussions. Inevitably, you are going to find yourself trying some things that simply do not work, and having a range of perspectives makes it much easier to discern what should stay and what needs to go.
'Nocturne' was inspired by Edvard Grieg’s composition of the same name. Are you are a fan of Grieg?
I am. Most of the music I listen to is modern, and the first name that usually springs to mind when I think of older composers I admire is from the Classical era (Mozart), but a lot of my favourite pieces are by Romantic-era composers like Grieg and Brahms. I fear I may have been neglecting them a bit recently, but working on this show has certainly corrected that.
When did you first encounter the work of playwright Adam Rapp and what about his writing inspires you?
I first read 'Nocturne' a bit over a year ago, around the time we started trying to secure a venue for 'Title And Deed'. It's one of those scripts you know instantly is going to be special, but which can take time to be fully appreciated. It's like a lot of my favourite films that way – I like them initially and gradually grow to love them the more time I spend thinking about them. Rapp wields an impressive mastery of the English language that I don't see very often. Even during what can seem at first glance like a digression or procrastination, not a single word is wasted. Everything flows gorgeously while still managing to accomplish so much in each line. Regrettably, I have only read one of Rapp's works as yet, but that will definitely change soon enough. If 'Nocturne' is any indication, it cannot be long before he will be counted among the greats.