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


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

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