One of the great advantages of living in Montgomery County is its close proximity to the shopping, restaurants and performing arts of downtown Houston. Readers seemed pleased when my editors began to send me on occasional forays to such Houston venues as The Masquerade Theatre and The Great Caruso’s Dinner Theater. Now if a theatergoer is very lucky, then once in a great while he comes across an experience in theater that is truly unique and creative. Such was my experience on the recent closing weekend of a very tour de force performance by Mr. Rob Nash in his original play for one actor. Titled “Romeo & Juliet: Sex & Love at Holy Cross High,” Mr. Nash shares authorship with none other than William Shakespeare. This is appropriate since much of the dialogue comes from the immortal Bard’s play of almost the same name. Sprinkled between those lines, however, is the abundant wit of Nash himself.
The show was performed at Theatre New West in Houston’s nearby Hyde Park / Montrose area (1415 California St. — Call 713-394-0464 for information on future productions). The theater is housed downstairs in the Sonoma Restaurant building, and if you haven’t dined at chic Sonoma, I have some stories about luscious grilled salmon and perfect sea bass you might want to hear sometime. Sonoma, with its gourmet food, attractive bar, outdoor deck, and a dining room that surrounds the dance floor and bandstand, is a place I hope to return to often. What a spot for an intimate wedding or reception.
But let us return now to the man of the hour, Mr. Nash. His original script is not flawless, and may occasionally be a bit hard to follow. But overall, it is a very clever project, brilliantly carried off by one lone (and very skilled) actor on an empty stage. The premise is the preparation of a Catholic High School’s production of “Romeo & Juliet,” combined with both the scene rehearsals and backstage shenanigans of the 18-member “cast.” (a.k.a. Mr. Nash). At the frequent moments when everything is working, this is an amazing display of acting techniques aplenty. It was so well done in this intimate theater room (fewer than 100 seats) that both I, and the guest who joined, me thought we were hearing and understanding the words and poetry of Shakespeare more clearly than we ever had before. This is not to suggest a serious atmosphere. The order of the day was the merriment and hilarity of Nash’s extraordinary skill at rapid changes of character using facial expression or contortion, body language, and voice variations. Through the magic of this one actor, we meet not only Romeo & Juliet, but also the high school Director, and Stage Manager, assorted priests at the school, the many characters of Shakespeare’s play, and finally, the entire cast that plays those characters. As for memorization of dialogue, Nash should take home the Tony!
Scenes like the “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” balcony scene were skillfully executed. Bouncing simply between a passionate upward glance (for Romeo) and a tender downward gaze (for Juliet), Nash creates true theater while standing before us in no more costume than a tee-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. Action scenes like the dramatic sword fight that takes the life of Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, totally fill the stage as Nash darts about with no more assistance than the fine lighting and sound effects of Stage Manager, Jim Wunrow. And of course, this being a theater in the Montrose section, there was plenty of campy nonsense from some of the characters. (Nash is already well known for comedy appearances on Stand Up Spotlight with Rosie O’Donnell, and Comedy Central’s “Out There In Hollywood.”) The curtain call was even hilarious as Nash went briefly into each individual body language as the various characters took their bows. Each received the warm applause of the audience. Theatre West’s gifted Artistic Director, Jo Watts, should have joined them on the stage, but then this was a “one-man show!”
Afterward, the friend who joined me wondered aloud if the theater couldn’t set up cabaret style seating and cocktails for a fun show like this one. A good idea, I think. We then spoke to the owner of Sonoma about offering specials combining show, dinner, and perhaps post theater cocktail discounts to ticket holders. I also think this particular show might have even more dramatic impact on an audience if compressed a bit, and performed without intermission. Something of the theatrical wonder was lost by a twenty-minute break in the marvelous proceedings.
As for Nash, this was not the end of the line by any means. His series of four plays about Holy Cross High is about to be combined into an Off-Broadway production to open this coming December in New York. I hope I get invited.
(The Courier 8.25.02)