A restored farmhouse in upstate New York would seem to be a perfect place for a peaceful, rejuvenating getaway for the five characters in “Goodnight Nobody” — Rachel Bonds’ new play, which is having its world premiere at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through July 9. Alas, it is not to be. The uncomfortable truths and deep-rooted pain that underlie these characters’ seemingly normal lives keep on coming to the surface — ultimately, in explosive fashion.
This isn’t exactly a novel idea for a play. But Bonds — whose similar (in some ways) “Five Mile Lake” had its East Coast premiere at the McCarter in 2015 — makes “Goodnight Nobody” quite absorbing through her ability to fashion unique, intriguing characters.
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli and featuring convincingly rustic sets by Kimi Nishikawa, the play is set entirely in the farmhouse, where characters relax and socialize, and on its grounds, where social niceties are sometimes abandoned.
Nan (Saamer Usmani) is a young artist who is starting to generate buzz. As accomplished as he is, through, he also seems a bit lost in his own world. He is at the farmhouse for a reunion get-together with his high school friends Reggie (Nate Miller), a comedian who is making a name for himself on the standup circuit; and K (Ariel Woodiwiss), who had been Reggie’s girlfriend in high school, but married someone else and recently had her first child with him.
Reggie’s mother Mara (Dana Delany) owns the farmhouse, and shows up with her boyfriend, Bo (Ken Marks). Both are successful artists, and worldly in a way that the younger characters aren’t. Reggie and his friends are surprised when they arrive: Reggie and Mara don’t communicate much, and so Reggie was unaware that they were going to have company.
Unbeknownst to Reggie, K and Bo, Mara and Nan had recently had an affair. This makes for some awkward moments, as does the fact that Nan seems more interested in having it continue than Mara does. But the other characters have unforeseen complexities, too. K is mourning the recent death of her father and finds motherhood much more challenging than she thought it would be; Reggie’s professional success may be more of a myth than a reality, and he also seems to have a drinking problem.
We never learn much about Bo, but Bonds lets us know that, underneath it all, he’s an emotional wreck, too.
Nan is a fascinating character — moody and mysterious to the point where he doesn’t just not fit in with the rest of the characters, but seems to be the kind of person who wouldn’t fit in anywhere. Reggie is his opposite: gregarious and self-deprecating, constantly deflating tension with a clever quip, but also a prisoner to his worse impulses. Reggie couldn’t be more earthy; Nan hardly seems human. It’s a bit hard to believe that these two could ever be best friends.
Nevertheless, they are. And I think that’s an important point. Bonds brings together five people who may not be natural fits for each other, but are still connected to each other, via friendship or family ties. As a result, it’s all messy and funny and painful. And because of the skill of everyone involved, it’s hilariously funny at times, but also almost unbearably painful at others.
“Goodnight Nobody” will be at the Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton through Feb. 9. Visit mccarter.org.
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