Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nocturne (Ensemble)

‘NOCTURNE’ hits wrong notes at ENSEMBLE

‘NOCTURNE’, Paul Zachary’s play, with music by Jonathan Markow, is getting its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre. The show, which is a mix of live jazz music and spoken words, is the story of a sax player who gave up his career in music to become a “successful” married man. His wife, who longs for the exciting days of music and struggle, finds a former jazz great panhandling and becomes his “patron.” She visits the elderly blind African-American man regularly, gives him money and cooks his meals. The husband, thinking she is having an affair, follows her, meets her “lover,” and the husband is transformed back into the man he and his wife want him to be.

In an interview done by Michael Gallucci earlier this year, Licia Colombi indicated that her love affair with the script started 25 years ago when she held a staged reading while living in New York. Columbi indicated that over time, the project gathered dust as its creators moved on to other jobs. Last year, Zachary decided to revive the work, contacted Colombi, reconnected with Markow, and thus, Ensemble got its chance to produce the play.

Columbi states, “The play is a dream and jazz fuels the dream. Underlying the spoken lines, and in scene transitions, jazz music reigns. The music becomes part of the dialogue.”

And, that’s the rub....the music should underlay. It should underscore, set the tone and feel of the play. It should highlight the calm and accent the turbulent moments. Unfortunately, under Colombi’s misguided direction, it doesn’t. The musical sounds and vocal tones don’t parallel each other. Though an excellent musician, Rob Williams’ sax is often too loud, drowning out the actors. The vocal tones of the actors don’t parallel Williams’ sounds. The soulfulness becomes soulless.

It’s the combination of music played without its needed dramatic sound, a stilted writing style, off-centered acting and poor direction that makes the Ensemble production discordant.

The usual dependable Jeff Grover seems overwhelmed with the part of Eldon, the musician gone awry. His acting is all on the surface, he fails to experience the lines, thus he sounds and looks unbelievable.

Valerie Young, another consistently good actress, doesn’t fare much better as Eldon’s wife. Again, the lines don’t give her much to work with, and Colombi hasn’t given her much guidance in how to be the frustrated woman.

Only Robert Williams, as the blind former Jazz great, rises above the script and direction. He has a good touch with the character’s underpinnings and makes the most of each of his scenes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘NOCTURNE’ needed a dramaturg to help guide the writer’s touch because the concept is good, but the end product is weak. It also needed a director who could get the most out of her actors and blend the music and the voices to their best effect. Unfortunately, Ensemble’s production fails to hit its required high notes.