Nightsong for the Boatman is a symphony of words. While it works at an acceptable level as a play, it really takes flight as a cacophony of speech from a character in love with poetry and the sound of his own voice. Nightsong centers on aging, alcoholic, washed-up poet Harry Appleman. While attempting suicide, Harry is stopped by a sardonic boatman from Hell. The boatman wants Harry to give his life to the devil -- unless Harry wins a round of dice. After Harry loses, he must cross the River Styx or find a willing participant to go in his place.
The story is revelled in short bursts of action, interspersed with longer bursts of verbal gymnastics from Harry Appleman (an wonderful John DiFusco, who excels in the role). Harry’s words charm a student, friends, colleagues and his wife. But, over time, each of these people realizes that Harry’s infatuation with his own thoughts outweighs his feelings for others.
|John DiFusco shines in Nightsong for the Boatman|
In the first act, Harry works furiously, but rather aimlessly, to avoid his appointment with the Devil’s henchmen. He occasionally attempts to persuade others to take his place, but it is rather half-hearted, knowing that this is his appointment. Over the course of the first half of the play, his ex-wife, his girlfriend, his boss, and his dissertation student all learn of his predicament. The play races in some scenes, and languishes in others.
But in the second act, the tone shifts radically. The play takes a more linear path, and occurs almost entirely at the dock where Harry’s daughter and extended family have gathered. Harry and the Boatmen argue about whom to take to the devil. In the second half the profusion of words slow to accommodate dialogue. It is easier to follow, but a rather stark difference.
The production is a recently discovered piece written by Jovanka Bach, now deceased. Ms. Bach’s Nightsong is a mythic piece, set in America, where myths don’t play a natural role. This dichotomy (a professor has to cross the river Styx?) causes some contextual problems. In order for the piece to progress, these contemporary characters have to accept this as a real problem.
Director John Stark does an excellent job of bringing the audience along with piece. In this he is served well by his cast, most of them excellent.
Nightsong for the Boatman is a poetic journey, perfect for anyone in love with melodic nature of vocabulary in the hands of experts.
Nightsong for the Boatman
Director: John Stark
Playwright: Jovanka Bach
Cast: John DiFusco, Nicole Scipione, Alex Wells, Michael Byrne, Donna Luisa Guinan, Geoffrey Hillback, Amanda Landis and John Landis