September 13, 2003


Finer Noble Gases

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning











For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

special to The Charlotte Observer

Playwright Adam Rapp’s Finer Noble Gases caused a stir at the 2002 Humana Festival of New American Plays. Nihilist in its rejection of society’s laws, existential in its lack of purpose; it presents six examples of whom you don’t want to be when you grow up.

Director Michael Simmons infuses excellent production values into the plotless tale of a band whose members live in squalor in the East Village. They give slackers a bad name. Staples, played by Eric Blake, and Chase, played by Derek Gamba, lie on a vomit-saturated sofa. Almost comatose, Buddy Hanson’s character Speed has the single-minded goal to add bags to the apartment’s volcano-shaped shrine of McDonald’s Happy Meals. Lynch, played by George Cole, sporadically meanders through the room bleeding profusely from his foot.

Hanson also designed the set, which is more a dump than a living space. From graffiti on the walls, to strewn paper products and real live urine, only one surface reflects order; a coffee table neatly set with bowls holding blue, pink and yellow pills. Call them breakfast, lunch and dinner, their ingestion is the full time occupation of most of the cast.

Noble gases are those that have little to no ability to react. Indeed, the characters live around, not with, each other. Obviously in despair, totally wasted on drugs, they speak in nonsequitors. Blake brings the most humanity to his role as Staples. While the characters’ source of passivity, violence, and despondence is unexplained, Staples alone has memories of a happy youth. Nick Iammatteo is a stand-out as Gray the neighbor.

One of the play’s songs, the haunting "Tabula Rasa," was written and performed by local band Mons Venera. The play does have welcome comic moments. Some, including a lapse into gibberish between Staples and Chase are purely funny. Others, like Lynch’s donning of a bear mask while he sniffs his new friend like a dog, are full of underlying angst. They never really alleviate this brutal depiction of unhappy lives.

Lynn Trenning, September 13, 2003

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