Los Angeles Theater Review: FINDING NICK (Zephyr Theater in Hollywood)

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by Paul Birchall on March 3, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

FINDING JUST A BIT

In his solo show, playwright Nicholas Guest describes his life and travels around the world.  He’s accompanied by Hillary Smith on the cello and by Tony Carafone on the guitar (in the play, not his travels) – and they turn out to be a helpful pair, too, because Guest intersperses his anecdotes and stories with songs.

Born in New York to a diplomat father, Guest finds himself transplanted in childhood to Geneva, where he becomes the odd boy out at the International School he attends, preferring to write poetry to doing physics homework.  After a return to New York, he heads back to Europe to go to school in Paris, where he tries to reinvent himself as a Communist Black Panther revolutionary by dint of his fabulous Nicholas Guest in FINDING NICK at the Zephyr Theatre. Photo by Ed Krieger.leather jacket.  Eventually he discovers that his true calling is acting—and, after impressing the legendary actress Maureen Stapleton, his career is on its way.

At times, Guest whips out his guitar and serenades us with songs, from the folk anthem “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” to Jacques Brel’s “Le Playt Pays.”  To his credit, Guest is a wonderfully charismatic performer, and when he sings, the stage virtually lights up.  He has a dusty, gritty voice that has just the right earthy timber for folk songs – and enough depth and melancholy for the French romantic numbers.  Unfortunately, his dramatic text is a lot less engaging, consisting, as it does, of broad and insubstantial incidents which lack the conflict or even any sense of moment to keep us interested.  If he has suffered from any hardship beyond the usual, we don’t hear about it.  In a work that often seems almost ridiculously guarded, Guest simply doesn’t tell a story that anyone outside of his circle would have much desire to know.

Strangely enough, Guest essentially glosses over the aspects of his tale that are likely to intrigue those of us who aren’t already his friends or family.  And, in fact, he has had an amazing acting career, training with legendary performer and teacher William Hickey, and then performing in more movies and TV shows than you’ve had chicken dinners.  The fact that he alludes to his acting career so glancingly, instead Nicholas Guest in FINDING NICK at the Zephyr Theatre - photo by Ed Krieger.emphasizing nebulous feelings, gives the work a weirdly banal quality.   It doesn’t help  matters that Guest himself seems to realize that his play rambles — he appears to lose his place several times, picking up a prob a few pages early and then putting it down with an apology, before picking it up again.  It leaves an impression of rough under-rehearsal, which, as evidenced by the musical numbers, is clearly not the case.

It’s a pity that the show isn’t packaged more as a concert and less as a work of drama.  Tamp down the inadequate narrative and, ironically, the text might work better as the sort of wraparound patter that accompanies a lounge singer’s musical numbers — you know, the sort of unrevelatory material that Liza Minelli always talks about between her songs.  As it is, Guest’s story merely comes across as slight, and even the best efforts of Lee Sankowich’s intimate staging,  is unable to rouse it above the terrain of simple self absorption.

Nicholas Guest in FINDING NICK at the Zephyr Theatre. Photo by Ed Krieger

photos by Ed Krieger

Finding Nick
Theatre Planners
The Zephyr Theater in Hollywood
Thurs and Fri at 8
ends on March 27, 2015
for tickets, call 323-960-4420 or visit www.plays411.com/nick

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

A. N. March 22, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Terrific review.

As a liberal – Nick Guest came off as a liberal version of George W Bush. His wealthy family allowed him to travel overseas and study poetry. For someone who was praised by others as a poet, the man isn’t much of a writer.

He experiences hedonistic adventures in Europe ( I suppose the sexy women adored him so it was all ok ) , striving to be an anti-war liberal ( he even begins experimenting with Marxism ) . At one point he says he knew what it was like to be homeless in Paris … only to be bailed out by his father.

It ends with him going to an acting class and being discovered by a historic acting coach by mere B-movie plotline cute-meet. As if getting into acting is literally that easy… he goes on to explore his just-above-under-5 career by stating that his EuroTrip was the key inspiration for these forgettable characters.

Most of his stories are filled with anecdotes that lack any real punchline or inspiring wisdom. They’re like stories one would tell on a double date to make other people feel like you’ve lead an interesting life.

Unfortunately , most of these stories come at the expense of borderline-racist caricatures of Europeans through the eyes of a privileged American. Marxist-Italians singing Jimmy Hendrix. Anti-semitic Parisians not allowing him to stay at their house rent-free. Black Panthers in Inside Lleywn Davis moments. Even the “sweet ending” with his daughter feels off.

Guest doesn’t really prefer contemplation of these events in moments while trying to connect w/ the audience on his every day life struggle. Unfortunately, (like his poor interpretation of Chekhov) the good stuff is what is left to the audience to fill in the gaps.

Like an actor , Guest tries to hide his flaws and boasts a resume that is weaker than he realizes. The fact that he tries to come off as highly educated and intellectual … despite only acting like a pot-headed wealthy 20 something in the bulk of these stories … is the un- intentional humor that you leave with when the play ends. As a woman, I saw a man who starts of as radically anti-war turn into a wannabe Hollywood celebrity. Mission accomplished.

Perhaps he should have stayed in politics and out of the movie industry? It worked for W.

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