Who am I?
It’s such a simple question, yet it has haunted some individuals for the entirety of their lives. The search for self is a profound quest and this is the plot of the dramedy, Gnit, an impressive jewel of a play currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.
Will Eno’s modern day mistelling of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is at times funny, heartbreaking, and deeply insightful. The play, itself, is very stream of consciousness. Events seem to happen for no rhyme or reason. Yet it all, somehow, holds together and provides for a most illuminating night of theatre. Credit for this goes to the ensemble cast, each of whom is universally up to the challenge of this esoteric and arduous play and the superlative directing of Susan Clement-Toberer.
Matthew Pyle gives a virtuoso performance as Peter Gnit. Gnit is a thoroughly and utterly worthless human being obsessed with discovering his true and real self. He is selfish, arrogant, manipulative, clueless, and a coward. Despite the fact that you should hate this guy, Pyle imbues Gnit with a certain likability that makes you hope that he finally gets it, especially at the moments where Gnit shows his humanity. Pyle’s delivery is beautifully simple and straightforward which serves to make Gnit so very real. He could be any one of us and this is most telling towards the end of the play when Pyle’s Gnit tells the audience that he hates us. Is it because we get it or because we’re not so different from him?
The other performers all play multiple roles, but each has a featured character that really stands out.
For Stacie Lamb, it is her performance as Gnit’s mother. She’s elderly, sick, crotchety as all get out, and doesn’t trust her son as far as she could throw him. She quite clearly loves him in spite of the fact that Gnit is a constant source of trouble for her, resulting in her having to pay for his sins. Act I’s closing scene between Lamb’s mother and Pyle’s Gnit is guaranteed to make you shed a tear.
Jonathan Purcell is incredibly amusing as Town. Yes, Purcell literally plays an entire town, effortlessly, and schizophrenically, jumping from character to character with every sentence. A role like this could so easily be played over the top, yet Purcell always manages to play the reality of the situation which permits him to maximize this unique character’s potential and garner innumerable laughs.
Sarah Carlson-Brown plays Solvay, the love of Gnit’s life, and, quite possibly, the key to Gnit’s discovery of his true and real self. Carlson-Brown brings a confident sweetness to this character. Her Solvay isn’t waiting around pining for Gnit. Assuredly believing that Gnit will one day return to her, she is busy living her life in the interim through giving. Caring for the house Gnit built and creating a bird sanctuary.
Bill Grennan demonstrates his incredible versatility once more with a comedic turn as The Middle/The Sphinx and a more dramatic turn as the Pale Man. The Middle/The Sphinx is a (mostly) unseen character. Serving as a conscience of sorts to Gnit, Grennan, using nothing more than the power of his voice, crafts a smartly humorous character determined to point Gnit in the right direction, but is frustrated by Gnit’s obliviousness.
As the Pale Man, Grennan provides a darkly mysterious character out to test Gnit’s “lack of integrity”. Once his true identity is revealed, you begin to understand the real internal strength of this persona.
Katlynn Yost’s characters are routinely victimized by Gnit. From a bride being kidnapped and deflowered by Gnit on her wedding day, to playing some groupies snubbed by Gnit, to transforming into an odd, witchlike, “realtoress” impregnated by Gnit, Yost deftly creates one unique characterization after another. However, it is also implied that her “realtoress” ultimately gets the best of Gnit by cursing him to never find his true self.
“Who’s next?” challenges Gnit at the end of the play. “Is it you? You? Or you?” Do we know who we are? Do we even know what it means to live? And in that pursuit of self, are we merely takers or givers? How you view Gnit after the play ends will go a long way towards answering those questions.
Gnit continues at the Blue Barn Theatre until March 16. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30 and Sundays at 2pm. An additional 6pm showing will be shown on Sunday, March 16. There are no performances on Feb 23 and Mar 13-15. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students, Seniors (65+), and TAG members. For reservations, call 402-345-1576. The Blue Barn is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.