First things first, the last FringeNYC performance of this amazing show is tomorrow (Monday) at 3:45pm. So, go to the listing and buy your tickets now by clicking here: Nils' Fucked Up Day.
Oh where to begin about all the things that are right with this show?
First, I suppose I need to wonder aloud why the last two pieces of theater I have seen and felt so excited about I almost bounced of the theater were from Eastern Block countries. The last show was created by Belarus Free Theatre and was showing in London (see older July post for review).
I don’t have a real answer for that, but I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that both of these countries are on the knife edge of globalization, spent years prior to their violent introduction to rampant capitalism as nominally communist (though in fact more totalitarian) countries, and so see things perhaps more clearly. In other words, they are not the slow boiled frogs like we are. They’ve been tossed into the boiling water as live lobsters, so they know what’s happening to them. We are all being boiled alive, but they can tell it hurts and it isn’t pretty like at all.
But to Nils’ Fucked Up Day and the extraordinary writer/director Peca Ştefan and the cast of very talented actors, led by Radu Iacoban as the eponymous Nils, who leads us through three ‘takes’ on his day. His flatmates, family and friends are played by an excellent ensemble Cătălin Babliuc as friend Hans, Mădălina Ghiţescu as flatmate Heidi, Ilinca Maolache as flatmate Lola and Tudor Aaron Istador as uncle Pops.
When entering the theater, there is video playing run by VJ Cinty. When I arrived, there was a video of George Carlin soliloquizing about the use of the word Fuck, followed by a cartoon, which was in the form of a language lesson about the versatility of the word Fuck as verb, adjective, noun, etc. In the midst of this Nils appears, setting up the stage using small props from a plastic bag, including a phone, a gun and some other small items. There is a plastic sheet covering the floor, which is made up of a patchwork of corporate logos, such as L’Oreal, Mercedes, Ikea, Doritos and the like.
The actor playing Nils (Iacoban) explains to us that we are to see this play that was originally in Romanian now in English and Romanian with surtitles. He says that while this experience will be new for us, for them (the actors) it will just be difficult. Iacoban was very good with the audience, able to handle incidental movement, latecomers and the like. He made sure to make eye contact or close with everyone. He had us laughing very quickly.
Take One of his day is Nils’ ‘fucked up’ day and was an extraordinary representation of total nihilism, which involved drug taking, brilliantly written idiotic rambling, references to pedophilia, meaningless sex, objectification of both men and women, and culminating in the killing of two people onstage, including Nils. The slow boil went from kind of shocking to completely shocking, from funny to uncomfortably funny, to not funny at all. And all of this in a mixture of English and Romanian with surtitles, which described the action and the ideas behind it in an overly literal or understated way rather than the actual words. The effect was riveting, as it felt like it took the ironic, never-satisfied-consumerist stance and brought it to its logical, nihilistic conclusion. The playwright himself walks on periodically with one line: Suck my dick. He is the usually unseen other flatmate who pays the rent and who Nils respects because he is a playwright.
The lights come back on after Nils himself is killed, he avers that this was not the best of days and suggests Take Two: Nils’ Seraphic Day. The female flatmates who were lascivious lesbians earlier are dressed as schoolgirls. Uncle Pops who was a drug addict is now a professor who ‘teaches’ the girls, which clearly implies pedophilia, but all are smiling throughout, looking geeky, well dressed and as if all is well, when it is clearly not.
At the end of this briefer sequence, Nils also gets killed by the nice little boy down the road who was delivering the pizza, but all the rest smile through it, walk over his corpse and go off to eat at a restaurant.
Take Three, which Nils suggests after the lights come up once again, is one of happiness. He is alone on stage, now back in his suit, in which he entered before devolving into drug-addled Nils, and asks us to concentrate on him, that we sleep “in profound consciousness” and awaken as more creative beings who will understand one another and be better people. He ends the show, as it began, with the statement “This is a show – a show of illusion.” Is this a plea to become better people or a marketing ploy? I would like to believe it was sincere, and I think it was, but still references the possibility of the eternally present advertising machine.
Throughout the show, video is used to extraordinarily good effect. The images, words (including surtitles), continual ‘news feed’ that is predicting the end of the world within days (in the first section), and the use of video ‘blood’ for the violence was very effective.
This is mere description, and I cannot capture the event itself, but hope that this will lead you to go and see it. Our fellow human beings from the former Eastern Block are seeing things quite clearly, and I think we best be listening, especially when there is an effort made to speak in English (the “language of globalization” as Nils explains).
Finally, I should mention that Nils also says at the beginning to not worry, they will not emigrate so our bartending jobs are safe. This is both funny and sad, because as all of us working in theater know, this is true, not only for immigrants but for most of us who work in the arts in NYC. My suspicion, because I have been working in London and have worked some in Europe, is that this play probably received more funding than many of the other FringeNYC shows that were locally grown. This is the great situational irony that never fades about downtown NYC theater. Experimental artists are always economic immigrants.