Nocturne(Photo © Steve Hankins)
Nocturne
(Photo © Steve Hankins)
Playwright Adam Rapp does a fascinating if uneven job of giving voice to the lives of disassociated twenty- and thirtysomethings and the lopsided logic and rambling romanticism that exemplifies their existence. His characters are lost amid popular culture, the pain of life, and the highs and lows of early adulthood.

Atlanta's PushPush Theater, within its current Adam Rapp Festival, is showcasing Rapp's Nocturne and Finer Noble Gases in full production in addition to offering staged readings of several of his other works. Both Nocturne and Finer Noble Gases illustrate the playwright's youthful style as told through the sights and sounds of young men who are making their place in a world that is not at all what they were led to expect.

Nocturne, selected as one of the Best Plays of the 2000-2001 season by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins (editor of the annual Best Plays volumes) and his colleagues, was originally written to include the roles of "The Father," "The Mother," "The Sister," and "The Red-Headed Girl with the Grey-Green Eyes," but PushPush Theater's production is a one-man show. The play is a lyrical tribute to language, permeated with a harshness that can be painful to hear. Like the car accident at the heart of the story, Nocturne is both excruciating to experience and impossible to ignore.

The Son, a suburban midwestern musical prodigy played by the mesmerizing Daniel Pettrow, tells a wrenching story of loss and devastation following the death of his younger sister and the disintegration of his family. The play follows this character from his insular home to the bitter streets of New York. He spends years exiled from his music and locked in a cell-like, book-filled apartment until, in his 30s, he seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. According to The Son, "grief doesn't expire, it changes temperature." Pettrow does an excellent job of putting the audience at the center of the character's thoughts and feelings, aching and raw as they are. In styles ranging from high drama to hard comedy, the actor effectively replays over and over the fateful moment when The Son's life imploded.

Finer Noble Gases(Photo © Terry Thomas)
Finer Noble Gases
(Photo © Terry Thomas)
Finer Noble Gases, Rapp's hommage to his own hazy, early years, was first presented at the 2001 O'Neill Playwrights Conference. Here, Pettrow plays Lynch, who, with his fellow slackers and bandmates Chase (Marc Cram) and Staples (Matt Stanton), spends his life in a drugged stupor. "Finer noble gases" are chemical elements, such as helium and neon, that do not readily attach to other elements to form compounds -- an analogy to the isolation of Chase, Staples, Lynch, and the oft-passed-out Speed (Anthony Melita). Days turn into nights and back to days as the friends sit glassy-eyed in front of the television, discussing the intricacies of the nature channel, the significance of their dreams, and the distinction between the pills -- some yellow, some blue -- that they religiously ingest. The play charts the adventures of Chase and Staples as they hatch a scheme to steal a television belonging to their sociopath neighbor Gray (Randy Havens) after Lynch destroys their own TV.

Pettrow gives a strong performance here, though not quite as searing as his turn in Nocturne. Cram and Stanton do well as stuporous, humorous, seedy slackers, wending their way through post-adolescence in a drug-smeared daze. Young Jane Harrison as the roller-blading Dot provides an honest assessment of the older boys' threadbare, TV-lit existence as she whirls through the action on a night that will see lives changed forever.

In addition to these two productions, PushPush is offering staged readings of Rapp's Bingo with the Indians, about an acting troupe en route to an Indian reservation on a fundraising scheme; and Ghosts in the Cottonwoods, which finds friends sharing secrets as their home slides from its foundations in a mudslide. There are also readings of Sparrow on the Roof, Stone Cold Dead Serious, and Mistral, the latter a tale of a young novelist whose life's work is literally swept away as he travels through Europe.

Like the voices of the young characters that mirror his own youth, Rapp's voice is vibrant, vigorous, and oftentimes vulgar. His theater pieces create a misty reality tinged with longing and hope marred by sadness, loss, confusion, and regret.