"But," I hear you saying, "what's so funny about a pathetic stalker and a half-there, promiscuous 'cutter'?" Well, it's all in the performances, which are excellent. Nerve is only an hour-long show, which, by modern cliché, cheap-shot critical standards, makes it either a "very long SNL skit" (as everyone seems to say about every one-act comedy these days) or, I suppose, if you want to approach it from the other direction, it could also be a very short War and Peace. But Szymkowicz's writing is so highly detailed, and Eric Little's direction so vivid, that both characters on stage have wheels-within-wheels in their fast-talking performances and "rich inner-lives," as Elliot (the young man) explains, after a terrible fight with a Muppet.
In the play, Ms. Backer presents her Susan as an irresistible maze, elusive and evasive in a million different ways; and Mr. Barron is like a litter of bloodhound puppies, ready to search out her most hidden recesses, and mark his new territory (okay, I'm exaggerating: he doesn't literally mark his territory). But there is lots of beer, and there are many trips to the bathroom, which allow for regular soliloquies and other business: Ms. Backer dances out her demons in the bar, and both of them make or receive furtive calls to (or from) their current or ex-lovers, while tonight's date is off-stage. Those bathroom breaks come in handy: revealing private complications we don't usually learn about on a first date. And, since each character has a bladder the size of a peanut, we manage to get a lot more of these private details with greater and greater frequency, as more and more beer goes down.
Playwright Szymkowicz keeps the impossible relationship alive with wild, honest disagreement and funny, funny misunderstandings all the way through. I completely understand that the fact that it's all crammed into one single hour might initially make it seem like a gyp to the ticket-buying public. But the sheer work-load and any and all outside distractions being utterly removed in favor of clever, fast-talking back-and-forth, makes an indelible comic impression, no matter the length.
Nerve, through July 25, 2009 at Crestwood Plaza's ArtSpace Theatre, in the former shop space #134, around the corner from the chain Mexican restaurant, by the former Dillard's department store. For information, call (314) 225-4329 or visit them on-line at www.echotheatrecompany.org.