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The Making of a Great Moment

The Making of a Great Moment. Written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Directed by Sean Daniels. Z Space, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA.

Peter Nachtrieb, playwright in residence at Z Space, has the comedy sensation of the year with his new work The Making of a Great Moment. With his deft touch for clever social satire and beautiful plot constructions, Nachtrieb focuses his laser wit on the acting profession seen through the maniacally neurotic characters of Mona Barnes and Terry Dean.

Mona and Terry, members of the Victoria Canada Bicycle Theatre Company, are touring New Hampshire on bicycle (a prop that features prominently in the piece) with their threadbare production of Great Moments in Human Achievement. The two actors couldn’t be more disparate; Terry is almost religiously committed to her craft, willing to sacrifice all to bring a moment of revelation to their audiences. Deans is on his 407th production, is burnt out and bitter. When Terry questions him about his choice of roles, Terry confidently replies that “quality has never been a much of a motivator for me”.

Nachtrieb uses a play-within-a-play concept in a most imaginative way. The action can change on a dime from the actor’s toils and tribulations on the road (bicycle crashes, flat tires, sleeping in the woods by the side of the road) to absurd historical vignettes from their pathetic show. Like a series of connection through time, we witness the invention of cheese, surgery, gun powder, and the bicycle. The creation of Roman societal order is made by Manifestus Destinus, the discovery of mushrooms is by Crimini and Porter Egress discovers the emergency exit. What may seem silly is turned into sparkling wit in Nachtrieb’s astute observations.

Aysan Celik is fantastic as Mona; all earnestness and zeal. She will not allow Terry’s nihilism to deter her spirit. Celik’s face reveals her every emotion; dejection when she feels she’s failed the production or ecstatic joy when an adlib she delivers becomes a renewed quest to change the audience’s experience through their own great moment of human achievement. With great comic timing, Celik is akin to the Imogene Coca, Carol Burnett or Anne Meara. Her banter with Terry offstage is as delightful as her onstage characterizations (her two-sphincter speech is a delight).

Aysan Celik is Mona Barnes. Photo by Andrew Burmester.

Danny Scheie is Bay Area acting royalty, an actor’s actor and a perfect match for Nachtrieb’s vitriol spewing Terry. Bitter and scathingly sarcastic, he plays the worst kind of acting nightmare – going through the motions and biding the time till his next paycheck. When the pair stand face to face to speak their New Age mumbo jumbo affirmations, Deans can’t help but take it a touch too far.  When he notices beads of sweat dripping down her face his affirmation is: “You look like a Popsicle. Oozing in the blazing sun at a state fair coating the hand of a bratty little girl who thinks she’s on the top of the world.  “Look at me, everybody.  I’ve got a popsicle.  Aren’t you jealous?”  But everyone is laughing at her.  Everyone is laughing at the sloppy little glazed donut of a girl no-one wants to eat”.

The scene quickly escalates and Mona’s retort is pure Nachtriebian absurdism: “I see death. Pale, hollow, skin barely keeping cheekbones from poking through.  I see surrender. Hopes crushed by the forces of nature.  Idealism and ambition chip chip chipped away by the relentless chisel of indignities and setbacks and failed attempts until all that’s left is a cynical ashy accumulation of decaying flesh going through the motions of what was once the most brilliant of creatures. I see the end”. Its writing like this that elevates Nachtrieb to the cannon of Bay Area playwright’s. These two characters are mere caricatures; we get to see their motivations and inner workings as they struggle with their mediocre production and thankless roles.

Danny Scheie is Terry Dean. Photo by Andrew Burmester.

Director Sean Daniel’s takes the plot constructs and works his magic. The pair ride their stationary bikes in front of a rolling scenery of farmland and trees. There’s some brilliant staging of the pair in their sleeping bags under the stars. The actors are vertical, standing on a platform, but our viewpoint is from above looking down on the two leading to some very funny scenes.

Nachtrieb, director Sean Daniels and stars Danny Scheie and Aysan Celik are at the top of their game in this phenomenal production. That the audience howled with sustained laughter throughout this piece is encouraging indeed for the future of wit and intelligence in comic theatre. This is must-see theater at its finest.

Performances run through August 26, 2017  415.659.8134