Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: To Drill or Not To Drill

By Michael Block

The land is something we have taken for granted. As new advances and discoveries are made, we have begun to take for granted the beauty of our world. Honoring the land in the age of money and oil is the very deep landscape of Nix. And if that was the heartbeat of the show, Katherine Brann Fredricks and Massimo Malavsi could have had something special. Instead, concepts and ideas get so out of control that Nix crumbles within.
Nix boasts that is adapted from Shakespeare's Hamlet, with quotes ranging from Henry Kissinger to Crazy Horse, and yet it's so extremely loosely inspired by Hamlet that you likely spent far too much time trying to find the parallels than paying attention to the actual material. If you are able to decipher a plot, you can find the story resembles something to this: Fermin is a money hungry tycoon eager to make a profit even if it means the death of a beloved tuned-in employee Rafael. His truck-driving sister in law Petra arrives just as the body is being discarded and her daughter Brisa hears words that will eventually prove his guilt. Meanwhile, the single Petra is convinced by her sister Jade to no longer mourn her deceased husband and party the night away with Rafael's brother Nestor. At the bar, Fermin spreads a lie of Petra's madness via alcohol. This sets off some tension between the sisters, especially when Petra is convinced Fermin is responsible for Rafael's death. Sound like Hamlet? It's a stretch. But spoiler alert, there is a big body count at the end. So where exactly does the title come from? Nix is Brisa's dog and recipient of most ridiculous plot device. Is Nix an essential character? Not at all. Why is he included? That's just one of the severe dramaturgical questions raised. Even looking at the structure, book writer Katherine Brann Fredricks could have benefitted from some assistance. The play begins with a scene with the song “On the Road” then a new scene and song called “Treasure Chest” then a reprise of “On the Road” followed by a reprise of “Treasure Chest”. It's dramatically weak. To remedy this, Brann Fredricks could have started the show with the inciting incident of Raphael's death, done “Treasure Chest”, introduced Petra with “On the Road” in full, and concluded with a reprise of “Treasure Chest” following the standoff. Whether it was a time constraint or lack of material, there was seldom character development and the music rarely furthered anything along. And nothing is more difficult to work with than poor prose. Brann Fredricks tried real hard to make the dialogue rhyme and it often hindered essential word choices.
With so many woes, there was something so surprisingly beautiful. And that was the voice of Darilyn Castillo. The purity and soul was a breath of fresh air. Her conviction was able to lift the material. As her daughter, Laurel Caruso played the sweetness. Her chemistry with Castillo was genuine.
Directing your own work can mean you lose the beauty of collaboration. And another eye and opinion. Katherine Brann Fredricks was so close to her material it felt as if she wasn't able to see the little things that bogged down the production. It's the little things. When you theatricalize a truck, it's important that even if it's not present it feels present. She had her actor's walk right through the imaginary truck at times. Even with the limitations, Brann Fredricks' staging was stuck. Again with the little things, when your characters explicitly state that they are drinking or if it plays an vital part of the story, bringing O'Doul’s on stage is inexcusable. Buy a six-pack of a name brand and fill it with water. When it came to choreography, Shelly Hutchinson gave a really nice moment to Castillo’s Petra and Jody Reynard’s Nestor in their dance duet.
By billing Nix an adaptation of Hamlet with other quotes thrown in is hindering the piece beyond imagine. Katherine Brann Fredricks should trust that the story she is trying to convey can live on its own. But right now Nix the dog needs to be nixed, as well as much of the material.