How much baggage can people bring to a first date?
Anyone who's been in that situation can attest to the fact that no matter what lengths we go to hide the quirks that might lead others to label us as neurotic, weird, and downright crazy, they will eventually show up somewhere between the initial meeting and the first kiss.
Whether there will be a next date really depends on what happens in between.
Adam Szymkowicz's play, "Nerve" takes us on that trajectory of a first date - a carefully constructed analysis of emotions that mirrors the history of a full relationship - all in one evening of drinks, dancing, and confessions.
The play begins with Elliot (Adam Silver) and Susan (Anna Rubley) arriving at a dive bar to get to better acquainted after their obligatory first movie together. They originally met on an online dating service. Tension is high as they set out to delve into one another's psyche. In the course of one night, Elliot and Susan proclaim their love for each other, their darkest secrets, and twice share a kiss that changes their lives forever.
Sixth Avenue's Los Angeles premiere of this play, set in New York City, is ideally suited for any major city where large concentrations of single people live their lives in isolation. Szymkowicz's taut comedy touches on our fears and uncertainties about opening up to another human being at the risk of getting hurt. The script is deceptively simple in its execution, but the beauty of the play is in the playwright's ability to transcend the superficial banter of two complete strangers desperately trying to connect and achieving an underlying subtext that gets under your skin and tears away at your own insecurities.
When Elliot jokingly wishes he had a knife to carve their names on the bar table and Susan casually digs out a kitchen knife from her purse, we know that this is not your typical first date yet, in so many others ways, it is.
Adam Silver and Anna Rubley are perfectly matched in the characters of Elliot and Susan. Their great (broad) comedic timing and expertly balanced pathos and sincerity make for a satisfying evening. Silver's sense of urgency translates to a neurotic who hasn't gotten laid in some time, not because he isn't cute (in a nerdy sort of way), but because he just can't seem to learn from his past restraining orders and previous stints in jail.
On the other side of that spectrum, Rubley's Susan vacillates between sensibility and giving in to spontaneity. She juggles suicidal ex-boyfriends while gaining empowerment through cutting her wrists. When she is bored she choreographs dance sequences (wonderfully devised by Laura Harrison) that illustrate her joys and her pains.
Sound designer Cricket S. Meyer's use of 80s power ballads playfully underscore the action on stage and set designer Stephen Gifford's realistic set, which includes an old Wurlitzer jukebox circa 1960s, anchors the play to the reality of the situation.
Michael Matthews's direction steers the whole evening down a roller coaster of emotions that eerily parallels a real first date - almost too eerily. Or perhaps it's just that Szymkowicz has mastered the art of cynicism all too well (when Elliot mentions that love is forever, peals of laughter permeate the audience.) Yes, this is a city of cynics and we can all sympathize with both Elliot and Susan -- right up to that first kiss and beyond...excess baggage in tow.
Performances through January 28 at The El Centro Theatre - Chaplain Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., in Hollywood. For tickets, please visit www.6thavenue.org.