A Night Near the Sun
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 13, 2006
A Night Near the Sun, an ambitious new play by Don Zolidis, is about a young man named Eric, his best friend Andy, Andy's 16-year-old girlfriend Kristi, and a married couple in their 40s who are their neighbors, Troy and Louise. Eric lives on a farm on the outskirts of the small Wisconsin town that is these folks' home; he spent the first 16 years of his life more or less imprisoned in a barn (for reasons that are revealed at the end of the play). Eric has a deep, dangerous crush on Kristi; so does Troy, although in his case it's a more generalized lust for all pretty young girls—Troy, the local drug dealer, spends his leisure time in Internet chat rooms, pretending to be a 13-year-old named Sally. Louise, meanwhile, has the hots for most of the young men who turn up at their house, including Eric, who arrives there—in the scene that sets the story in motion—to buy some acid from Troy.
Kristi's mother is dying of liver cancer, and her father, who has always been physically abusive to her mother, is making her home life pretty unbearable. But when Kristi asks Andy to let her stay at his house (he lives in his parents' basement), he balks, concerned at least in part by the possibility that her father will charge him with statutory rape. Andy similarly rejects her suggestion that they run away together. And so, Kristi suddenly disappears, on the very afternoon that Troy is supposed to deliver the LSD to Eric...and Troy disappears, too.
This leads to a string of events that turn tragically violent. I don't want to give away the play's surprises, so suffice to say that before the (metaphorical) curtain falls, someone has been murdered and every one of the surviving characters' lives is irrevocably altered.
This is, as the foregoing synopsis should alert you, a very busy play. Indeed, it's almost too fraught with incident for its own good. Zolidis is terrific at delineating characters, and particularly when he's blessed with an accomplished actor—as he is here by Brian Linden as Troy and Zachary Fletcher as Andy—he's able to create honest, complicated, touching individuals. The details are insightfully fleshed out: Andy's romantic attempts at poetry; Troy's manic cover for his middle-aged desperation in bars, drugs, and chat rooms. Linden and Fletcher deliver well-rounded and finely-tuned performances; it's unfortunate that their characters (especially Fletcher's, who is almost completely absent from the play's second act) don't have more to do.
But as good as Zolidis is at painting these portraits of melancholy small-town men, he's less accomplished in managing the very complicated plot and back story that he's hatched in A Night Near the Sun. The explanation for Eric's isolation feels far-fetched, and the overall ambience of the piece—drenched in forlorn sex and drug-taking—seems to lack the depth that would really allow us to properly understand the lives he's depicting here. I was also disturbed by the lack of balance in his portrayals of women: the four female characters (two of them strong offstage presences) are a nymphomaniac, a victim who is literally on her deathbed, a troubled teen with dangerously self-destructive impulses, and a delusional psychotic. Lacking positive contrasts of any kind, the play borders on misogyny.
It has been given a competent production by the bold young company Impetuous Theater Group, with a versatile and spare set designed by Joe Powell and effective lighting and sound design by George Gountas and Ryan Dowd, respectively. James David Jackson's staging feels a bit slow-moving in the first act, but is satisfactory overall. In addition to Linden and Fletcher, the cast consists of Cidele Curo, who does her best with the underwritten role of Louise, and Reyna DeCourcy (Kristi) and Michael Rudez (Eric), neither of whom seems to have quite the acting chops to fully put over their complex characters. (The fact that both look and play considerably older than their respective characters' ages of 16 and 22 is problematic as well.)
A Night Near the Sun offers an often interesting look at contemporary American small town life; at its best—in its compassionate explorations of Andy and Troy—it feels like the kind of thing William Inge might write were he alive today.