Review by: Steve Spriensma
A nocturne is a piece of music inspired by and played at nighttime; Chopin, whose nocturnes inspired the title of the Samuel Chang’s play, wrote 21 of them. Chopin’s music has less to do with Nocturne than the title hints at, but it’s clear that music as hope in a dark time is a central theme. Thematic subtly isn’t one of the play’s strong suits, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable and emotional experience.
The highlight of Nocturne is AJ Haygarth, playing Nathan, the ‘composer’ separated from his love by an ocean and war. He’s a natural on stage, and in his performance every emotion feels genuine. Allison Warwick is also good as Rebecca, the female half of the center couple. While occasionally lapsing into a sort of wide-eyed exuberance, she plays both joy and despondency with equal skill, and the innocence and good nature of her character shines through. Seeing her with Haygarth is worth the price of admission- the chemistry between the leads makes the play great. Haygarth and Warwick don’t look like they’re acting in love; they look like they are in love. With nice direction from Chang, the two use the sparse set well.
It’s hard to complain about the abstract, balletic element of the play, because the dancing of Cassandra Bowerman truly is lovely, and a lot of hard work clearly went into it. But the character of Hope, who dances in and out of scenes usually with a flowery soliloquy, often feels out of place with the rest of the play; the role probably comes out of an attempt to separate Nocturne from the WWII romances from which it derives inspiration.
And yes, Nocturne feels like familiar territory- the story of people being torn by war is a well-tread one, and Nocturne doesn’t necessarily break new ground; a central character setup involves the comic foil Charlie failing a simple magic trick, a joke worn out by overuse. But at least in the straight parts, the play isn’t trying to overreach. Simply put, it’s a love story, and the artistic meanderings don’t prevent it from being quietly beautiful.