By Nikolai Gogol. Adapted and directed by Julieanne Ehre. With Guy Massey. greasy joan & co. at Athenaeum Theatre.
Acting in an absurdist play without it appearing like one isn't an easy task, yet Massey makes it look absurdly effortless. As Kovalev, the preposterous "collegiate assessor" who insists on the title of major, Massey works every inch of his face and body. Each expression and gesture crystallizes the ridiculous, self-important Kovalev—a man who wakes up to discover his nose is missing, then scurries around St. Petersburg in pursuit of it. When he spots his honker masquerading as a government official (in the play's most striking image), Massey does the absurd like Nicole Kidman does the silent cry.
Yet once we get that the nose-losing business symbolizes losing/saving face, there isn't much else to be gotten. Ehre has adapted a short story by 19th-century Russian author Gogol, but she never convinces us that it should be a full-length play. Perhaps anticipating that concern, she incorporates bits from other Gogol works, but rather than illuminating any themes, this makes the show disjointed and muddled. But The Nose's real stinker is its ill-conceived "Gogol testimonies," in which the actors take off their sculpted noses (Ana Kuzmanic's arresting designs of nasal exaggeration) and seemingly speak as themselves. How these disconnected passages relate to anything else, we just can't sniff out. (Why is a young actor suddenly telling us about her ailing grandmother?) Ehre could've taken Massey, Kuzmanic's snouts and Andrew Hansen's aptly screwy score, and snipped off most of the rest.—Novid Parsi