These one-man plays feature 40 characters Stage: Rob Nash's plays at the Theatre Project follow three misfit friends through their struggles in Jesuit High School.

November 09, 1998|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

It's not unusual to have a one-man play involving a series of monologues. But a one-man play involving 40 characters all chatting with each other?

"Boom, I'm someone else," says Rob Nash, the dynamo who's bringing his two short plays "Freshman Year Sucks" and "Sophomore Slump" to the Theatre Project starting Friday. "They carry on conversations. I've got 10 people on stage all talking to each other. It's really fun to perform; it's really fun to watch."

Nash's plays follow three misfit friends as they struggle with Jesuit High School and their own identities. The twist: Even though "Sophomore Slump" takes place when the friends are a year older, the setting is 10 years later. The time shifts from

Nash's own freshman year of 1981 to what he calls the "clean era change" of 1992. The switch lets him tackle changing political issues as well as the usual comical heartbreaks of high school.

So night after night, Nash, 31, who calls himself a "recovering Catholic," relives his own Jesuit high school experience. But it wasn't all bad.

"It certainly was horrifying, especially freshman year, but all in all I have very good memories. As crazy as we are, we were just trying to find safe harbor, to become individuals and find community at the same time."

The experience of staging the plays has also given Nash insight into what high school looked like from the other side. "It's really taught me what it means to be a teacher," he says. " I have all this compassion and forgiveness and gratitude toward the Jesuits and toward the teachers, who screwed up royally and also really succeeded."

Nash's unique works are fueled by a background in both theater -- he appeared in musicals starting around age 11 -- and stand-up comedy, which he got into when he went to college at the University of Texas at Austin. His previous works include "12 Steps to a More Dysfunctional You" and other "Dysfunctional" plays, and he's hoping to stage "Freshman" and "Sophomore" off-Broadway in the spring.

Nash plans two more plays with the same characters, "Junior Blues," set in a futuristic wartime setting, and "Senioritis," set in the 1950s. Yes, the 1950s. After going forward for three plays, he's going back in time.

"Why not?" he says. "I think the '50s are kind of the beginning of the postmodern era." And he sees the different time periods united by the "universality of the whole high school ritual."

You can see Nash performing his "Freshman" and "Sophomore" plays at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., at 8 p.m. this Friday-Sunday; Nov. 20-22; and Nov. 27-29. Tickets are $14; $8 for students. Call 410-752-8558.

Back from the dead

The musical "The Scarlett Pimpernel" reopened on Broadway last week after significant rehauling, and the New York Times reports that ticket sales are up.

The Times' review isn't unkind to the new production, which has been rewritten, restructured and recast under new executive producer Tim Hawkins and new director Robert Longbottom.

"What was once a frozen lump of a production is on its feet and moving," Ben Brantley writes. But he says it's still not a classic; it's just that it "now has such essential assets as a focused story line, dramatic momentum and cleanly defined characters, none of which were evident in its first incarnation."

The Hollywood Reporter wasn't as kind, saying "the musical is still a hoary melodrama that isn't even as good as 'Jekyll and Hyde,' the critically lambasted musical from the same composer, Frank Wildhorn." "Pimpernel's" book and lyrics are by Nan Knighton.

The naked truth

It is rare that an artist's entire body of work creates a stir on Broadway. But when the body is Nicole Kidman's, people will talk.

The question was simple: Will Kidman, arriving on Nov. 27 in David Hare's "The Blue Room," appear nude, as she did in the London production, or in more modest attire?

The speculation was apparently set off by an article on Monday in the New York Post, which reported that Kidman would appear in "only a see-through body stocking" when the show moves into New York's Cort Theater. For the uninitiated, a body stocking is a thin, full-body sheath, usually made of Lycra, fine netting or something called jumbo Spandex.

"It's essentially a glorified Capezio unitard," said William Ivey Long, the costume designer of skin-saturated shows like "Cabaret" and "Chicago," adding that the garment offers "optical and psychological" support. The Post report raised eyebrows for those who had seen the show in London, where Kidman was naked for several seconds in one scene. Were the Americans being deemed too prim? some asked. Was Kidman just being shy?


The director of the show, Sam Mendes, said there were no plans to change costuming from the London production to Broadway. "I'm perplexed," he said, "that one very, very small piece of unerotic nudity should cause such a fuss."

Whatever her garb, one thing is certain: Kidman sells tickets. As of Thursday, the three-month run was 80 percent sold out.

Previews start Nov. 27; the play officially opens Dec. 13 and runs through March 7 at the theater, 138 W. 48th St. in New York. Tickets are $35-$60; call 212-239-6200.

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