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N., A Play for None and All

Wednesday, Aug 2 2000
Buzz around town had it this play features serious and extensive dancing, and the buzz proved true: Mary Carbonara has bravely salvaged Howard D. Hain's story of Friedrich Nietzsche's mental decline with her competently choreographed dream sequences. Unfortunately, the script isn't worthy of them. The play's subtitle refers to Nietzsche's refusal to balance the purity of his philosophical writings with even a touch of accessibility, an inherently undramatic subject and a challenge that Hain -- who did manage to score the production beautifully with music by Shostakovich, Chopin, and Wagner -- apparently isn't up to. It's true that Nietzsche often wrote in potent aphorisms, and that many of his words now sound clichéd, but that's no reason to give Nietzsche's anti-Semitic brother-in-law, played by James Joyce Gioia, such bland lines as, "What is done is done. We must do our duty to him." Nick Scoggin turns in an intense, compelling portrayal of Nietzsche and responds to Carbonara's subtle choreography with every nervously twitching muscle of his expressive body. But his strong work is undercut by Nancy Dobbs Owen as N.'s manipulative sister Gertrude, who takes a shrill role and makes it shriller, screeching, "Why can't you just be happy?" The show's saving graces are Samuel Pott (newly a member of the Oakland Ballet) and Samantha Steger (an unknown fresh out of San Jose State), who bring fluidity and magnetism to their roles as the "Warrior" and "Heated Spirit," figments of Nietzsche's imagination. At least it's gratifying to see dancers get the lion's share of applause.

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Rachel Howard


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