Manbites Dog Theater’s world-premiere production of Nightwork, a dark comedy written by Monica Byrne and directed by Jay O’Berski, promises more than it delivers. A better title for this uneven, episodic 80-minute play, performed without intermission, might well be — with apologies to Nobel Prize in Literature-winning Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) — Five Freaked-Out Graduate Students in Search of a Plot.
The plot’s the thing, as our old buddy Hamlet has opined on countless stages. And that is missing from Nightwork. There’s very little that ties the script’s intermittently entertaining episodes together. As for the play’s ultimate message: fugetaboutit!
Nightwork is set in the wee hours of the morning in a university research lab, where grad students are conducting routine research — or is it unspeakable offstage experiments? — on laboratory mice, which are being sacrificed in the name of science. There is more than a smidgen of technical jargon, a lot of gallows humor, and a surprising amount of horseplay in a lab that employs highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid in some of its experiments. (Want to watch acid eat right your flesh through to the bone, just slosh that beaker of hydrofluoric acid onto any part of your anatomy, clothed or unclothed?)
What Nightwork does have is some caffeinated comic characterizations by Dana Marks, Jeffrey Moore, Kashif J. Powell, Alex Young, and Annie Zipper, Aidan Alguire. Although he sometimes comes on too string, Jeffrey Moore is a regular force of nature as Blair the lab bully, stoked on Red Bull and vodka and ready to bull-rush anyone in his path. Dana Marks is a pip as a tough broad from South Boston, and Kashif Powell deftly handles Gordon’s metamorphosis from and erudite and aloof student from Ghana to a party animal.
Annie Zipper is good as the geeky lab rat Katharina, who becomes a Girl Gone Wild when she lets her hair down; and Alex Young — in braces — is bubbly as first-year grad student Rachel, who becomes the scariest creature in the lab when she lets her inner freak out.
Durham writer and playwright Monica Byrne and Durham director Jay O’Berski, who serves as artistic director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and an associate artistic director of Manbites Dog Theater, employ a scattergun approach when it comes to staging Nightwork. The problem is, the targets of their satire are not always apparent. Is it Big Pharma, Corporate/University Collusion, Vivisection in General, or something else entirely that is the bull’s-eye on their dramatic dart board?
WARNING: SPOILER: The 11th hour appearance of a giant mouse in uniform (Aidan Alguire), like the mouse king from The Nutcracker, might have been a clue — but the technology employed to make his voice sound other worldly rendered too many of his lines unintelligible.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 2nd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/satirizing-laboratory-follies-in-nightwork/Content?oid=1999964; Feb. 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/02/961513/funny-moments-arent-enough.html; Jan. 31st Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=190; and Jan. 27th Chapel Hill, NC North Carolina Public Radio WUNC 91.5 FM interview with Monica Byrne, conducted by Alex Granados and Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/An_Experiment_in_Theater.mp3/view. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 27th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/01/nightwork-is-an-outrageously-dark-comedy/.)
Manbites Dog Theater presents NIGHTWORK, world premiere of a new play by Monica Byrne, at 8:15 p.m. Feb. 3-5, 3:15 p.m. Feb. 6, and 8:15 p.m. Feb. 9-12 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $17 Friday-Saturday, except $5 Student Rush Tickets and $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919/682-3343 or https://www.etix.com/.
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Reviewpreviews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.