Not Dark Yet
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 13, 2008
The premise of Timothy Nolan's new dramedy, Not Dark Yet—in which an up-and-coming writer sacrifices art over life—is both interesting and novel (no pun intended). But the playwright is never able to convert that premise into dramatically satisfying storytelling. A surprising lack of conflict and faulty internal logic doom a script that, on the flip side, contains a lot of wisdom about the creative life of artists. Unfortunately, Nolan never clarifies what point he's trying to make, and that confusion trickles down to almost every aspect of the play's current incarnation.
Tom, the protagonist of Not Dark Yet, seemingly has it all: a rising literary career, a supportive wife who doubles as his equally supportive editor, and a steady schedule of public appearances. He even has a muse—an enthusiastic bruiser named Norman—that visits quite frequently. But, dissatisfied with it all, Tom begins to fight back. He ignores Norman's endless supply of inspiration, starts skipping book readings, and even goes looking for a day job.
The big question, of course, is: why? Why does Tom forsake everything he has? Nolan is frustratingly vague about his leading man's motives. Norman suggests that loyal wife Anne may be carrying a torch for her former flame, Mitch (Tom's offstage publisher), but those claims go uninvestigated because Tom never asks her about them. Instead, he just emotionally shuts down, stops writing, and starts making frequent trips to the zoo. Tom's willingness to put stock in what is essentially an unverified rumor seems, at best, dubious and illogical.
And why would any artist shun the advances of a muse as attentive as Norman? True, he comes and goes as he pleases ("I don't work on a schedule. You can't schedule the wind," he says at one point), but he always brings creative gold with him. Yet Tom wants none of it. Or rather he only wants it on his terms. There's a fascinating play waiting to happen just within Tom and Norman's scenes—about the constant struggle between artistic inspiration and discipline—but it doesn't seem to be one Nolan is interested in writing.
Not Dark Yet does have some bright spots, though, namely the physical manifestation of Tom and Norman's interplay together: they dance. Nolan and director Christine Simpson hit upon the perfect metaphor for the creative give-and-take between artist and muse, and choreographer Deb Silver brings it to life with humorous effect. Actor Jake Suffian's alternately playful-yet-menacing performance as Norman is also a highlight, tapping into the story's high-stakes potential more often than not.
But the rest of the production never follows suit. As Tom and Anne, Kyle Knauf and Elizabeth A. Bell shy away from the play's bigger emotional moments, and who can blame them? It's hard to know what's at stake for their characters. Simpson does as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but there's only so far one can go with a script about a man who doesn't want anything, who merely is. Ultimately, Not Dark Yet feels more like a prelude to a future story about these characters than anything else.