After seeing the show, I tried retelling the plot to my wife, but I failed miserably to capture the compelling story. The tagline teases the premise nicely: "A dark sci-fi comedy about love, sleep deprivation, and long-distance phone calls gone terribly wrong." That's really all I knew going in and I was pleasantly enthralled as the tale unfolded on the intimate stage of 59E59's Theater C.
Mark Cajigao is great as the lead, Morgan, a sympathetic man going above and beyond on an assignment overseas that pushes him to the limit of sanity as he endures sleepless hours and mysterious directions from his patron, Dr. Luk, played to perfection by Rachel Cornish, from her deliberate body language to her slightly off-kilter speech patterns. Their interactions were the big highlight of the play for me, as Morgan tries to do his job while locked in a windowless room in another country, juggling his challenging project while trying to figure out what exactly is going on in his conversations with the statuesque and demanding Dr. Luk, while also trying desperately to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend, Jenny, with whom he communicates back home via cellphone. Jenny has issues of her own and seems to have an alternate beastly personality, "P.J.," that reveals itself when she sleeps. (I told you my plot retelling was horrendous and doesn't do the show justice, so don't rely on my poor words. Hopefully you'll have the chance to see this play for yourself someday and let its many surprises delight you as they did me.)
Estelle Bajou plays Jenny -- from the first moments the character seems quirky and an emotional wreck, a high-maintenance girlfriend if ever there was one. Morgan, by comparison, seems like a saint for sticking by her, but then you understand why he took a job in a distant foreign land far away from her, even if the goal apparently was to salvage their relationship. As the story progresses, Jenny becomes both more likable and more shrewish, if that makes sense -- she's a girl of many facets, and not just from her literal double personality. She is arguably the most volatile character in the play, constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Her ex-boyfriend, Bram, (played wonderfully by Drew Hirshfeld), is on hand to cause mischief and pounce on her vulnerability while Morgan is away. There's more to him than meets the eye, but what meets the eye is a great antagonist, obvious bad news from the second we see him. Like many great villains in theatrical history, he's great to watch and completely entertaining.
The only negative is that the drama/comedy's punchline ending left me wanting more. Nick Starr has created an intriguing world, building up the mystery and the suspense, tugging at our emotions with these fascinating characters, but I wanted to learn more about Dr. Luk, more about the micro-sleep experimentation, more about the strange land and even stranger circumstances in which Morgan found himself. What we do see is satisfying enough, but the conclusion is like waking from an intense dream, trying to figure out what it all meant, if it meant anything at all.
For more information on TheNest theater company, visit thenestnyc.org and to learn about more great productions at 59E59 check out their Web site (and become a member).