Verité: Theater review by Adam Feldman
“It’s very important that your character makes interesting choices,” advises Andreas (Matt McGrath), a beamingly shady Norwegian book publisher, to Jo (True Blood's Anna Camp), a writer he has commissioned. Since Andreas and his partner, Sven (Robert Sella), have hired her to write a memoir, the “character” in question happens to be Jo herself. The problem is not just that she has little literary skill—her only output is an unpublished fantasy novel called Dragonscape—but that her life seems unworthy of a $50K advance: A former homecoming queen, she has married her high-school sweetheart (Danny Wolohan), a bus driver, and they are trying to make ends meet while raising a young son. “Why can’t you just be happy?” asks her tacky, loving sister-in-law (Jeanine Serralles). “Because it’s a waste of my talent,” Jo replies, by which she means her life.
Written in a vein of ominous satire, Nick Jones’s Verité investigates the modern blurring of boundaries in which personal growth, refracted through a (possibly imagined) lens of public presentation, mutates into a form of careerism: an end no longer unto itself. As Jo starts thinking of herself in the third person, as the hero of a standard adventure-ordeal-and-redemption arc, complications arise—notably in form of the obsessive Winston (Girls' Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who claims to have known and loved her for years. The nominal echo of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is surely intentional, given the play’s interest in external control and internalized surveillance. Is Winston a device that Sven and Andreas have planted in her life? And even if so, especially if so, should she go along with it?
As Jo makes bolder and bolder decisions in the name of truthlikeness, trying not to stray too far from the Nordic track, Verité keeps you guessing and second-guessing her. It’s suspenseful in that way, and enjoyable as such, but there’s a cipher at its center. As Jo’s husband notes, “There’s nothing that kills a book faster than an unlikable main character,” but Jones—again, one suspects, by design—gives us no real stake in Jo’s story. Camp plays her passively, and Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s direction (on the extrawide Claire Tow stage) emphasizes chilly negative space. For a putative morality tale about humanity, Verité doesn’t ultimately seem too concerned with real humans. Its heart is in its twists.—Adam Feldman
Claire Tow Theater (see Off Broadway). By Nick Jones. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. With Anna Camp, Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
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