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JOE WHYTE'S NEBRASKOBLIVION
by Jonathan Abarbanel
2001-08-01

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Chris Conry's 100-minute comedy Joe Whyte's Nebraskoblivion purports to be "the excavated remains of the second greatest play never written," by fictive Omaha author Joe Whyte. Why "Joe Whyte" would create and then abandon this work is never made clear, nor is it clear why his neighbors ( the cast ) would salvage it from the garbage. The play-within-a-play conceit seems only a convenience for Conry's intentionally fragmented style.

Feeling initially like a long-form improvisational scenario ( as much the theater game-influenced staging by Susanna C. Gellert as the writing ) , Nebraskoblivion eventually focuses on the 1999 relationship between industrial heiress Kate...who flees her family to work as a bike messenger...and telephone company employee Mark There are extensive diversions about Mark's radical Uni-bomber brother, and a mid-1970s married couple who probably are the parents of Mark and James ( this point never is made clear; but if they're not, they have no business in the play ) .

Structurally unruly, what Conry's work has going for it are wonderful set pieces...usually soliloquies but sometimes dialogues...on football and raking leaves, marriage, customer service phone lines, kids, romance and sex, memory and brotherly hate among other topics. These two- or three-minute insertions are richly imaged, atmospheric, sensual, well-shaped and sentimental or sarcastic as needed. They substitute for subtext amid scenes that otherwise are cartoon-like and superficial in style.

Utilizing the Neofuturarium stage, the I-80 Drama Company offers a bare-bones production, but one which capitalizes on the theatricality of the work, and the ample energy of an attractive young cast. The principal scenic elements are the map-like painted floor ( David Wolf, designer ) and the surprisingly diverse lighting...given a limited number of lighting instruments...of Joshua Benghiat.

The five-person cast all play neighbors of Joe Whyte, who then portray various characters in his play. Ian Brennan as lithe and beaming Mark, and Chloe Johnson as determined but conflicted Kate are splendid leads, well-supported by Seth Zurer and Lauren Carter as the parents ( and other characters ) and a bearded and scruffy Jason Vizza as the bomber brother. They all are well-credentialed actors having fun without stretching themselves.

Conry has been praised for Nebraskoblivion, but it shouldn't go to his head. Despite energy and flashes of originality, it's inconsistent and messy with an old-hat theme, a jaundiced take on the American Dream. But it's useful as a stepping stone to some deeper, better, less self-consciously stagey future work.


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