A new play shines at Hubbard Hall
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — Begun in 2006 as temporary traveling display of personal items symbolic of broken relationships, the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia became a permanent institution in 2010. Limited to roughly 100 objects at any given time, the museum's white walls and white pedestals display objects from fractured relationships that have been sent to the museum's directors and owners, Drazen Grubisic and his ex, Olinka Vistica — whose own broken relationship gave rise to this privately financed institution — by lovers, wannabe lovers and one-time lovers and partners from around the world.
While the museum itself never appears in Danielle Mohlman's "Nexus," the centerpiece of Hubbard Hall Arts and Education Center's "Winter Carnival of New Plays," it is a reference point for one of the play's two characters, W (played by the haunting Emma Jackson), who is fresh out of a long-standing relationship she is having difficulty shaking off. She has sent physical remnants of that relationship to the Croatian museum but there is a good deal she carries with her. On her own, she could be a living art display there. She finds refuge and sanctuary in the galleries of the museums in Washington, D.C., where Mohlman's fascinating, compelling, deceptively simple play is set.
Patiently (perhaps too patiently; even at a running time of just about 90 minutes, Mohlman's intermissionless play loses some steam about three-quarters of the way through before regaining momentum in the moments leading up to and including its unexpected ending) "Nexus" traces the uneasy course of a relationship that begins innocently at a Washington, D.C. bus stop and leads to a critical turning point and its aftermath nearly three years later.
W is a young professional who, in the wake of the end of a long-term deeply meaningful relationship, is a bit of damaged goods — intensely private, at once protective and self-destructively daring. She and M,, another young professional she meets by chance (played by Jonathan W. Colby with keen understanding and honesty) form a relationship that is bound by carefully delineated rules that invite and allow for physical intimacy without emotional engagement or surrender. They spend a lot of down time apart, although M, as the relationship progresses, wants more definition, more lovemaking than sex. It is a long time in their relationship before W finally invites M to her apartment. Their sex until then is at his place. Her reasons for keeping him away are varied, vague and may or may not be the truth.
W shares much of herself with M through various excursions through Washington's museums — the various buildings of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, the National Geographic Museum. They sit on a hill behind the Lincoln Memorial identifying various airlines as their planes land or take off from Reagan Airport.
On one level. the writing is spare. "Nexus" unfolds as a series of vignettes. Mohlman tells us as much as we need to know. Most of the particulars of W and M's lives — family, what each of them does for a living, backrgound — are never revealed or are, at best, vague allusions. What matters is who and what W and M are now; how they respond to one another. Historic detail matters less than effect. The emotional undercurrents, however, are deep, complex, nuanced.
Mohlman understands the complexities of relationship dynamics — how those dynamics are shaped by the personalities involved. In this emotional setting chemistry is a complex, not unerring equation. To use a cliche, it is all a matter of timing. "Nexus" examines a not-ready-for-primetime relationship and what it will need to become ready.
Snider's production also is as simple and complex as Mohlman's writing — only the unadorned white walls and floor of Hubbard Hall's Freight Depot Studio Theatre/Gallery. The only set piece is a wooden bench. Words fill the space — words left unspoken as much as words that are spoken; images that connect to the complex network of nuance and personality that are the stuff of relationships.
No sentiment, no mawkishness, no melodrama, no artificial manipulation; just a remarkable 90 minutes of theater that lives in shades of grey in a black box space with white walls and a white floor.
What: "Winter Carnival of New Work" — "Nexus" by Danielle Mohlman
Director: David A. Snider
With: Emma Jackson, Jonathan W. Colby
When: Tonight through Sunday. Eves.: 8 tonight-Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat., Sun.
Where: Hubbard Hall Center for Arts and Education, 25 E. Main St., Cambridge, N.Y. (in Freight Depot Studio/Gallery, off Washington Street behind main building)
How: (518) 677-2495; hubbardhall.iorg
Note: Play is being performed at each show along with staged readings of new plays in developmen
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