In July 2010 I happened upon a show billed as multi-media. The first in a trilogy, it claimed to weave visual art, music, poetry and theater. Homespun and facile, I assumed. The sort of lethargic event reliant on form to obfuscate rather than reveal. Then the lights went down.
Contrary to my jaded assumptions, the show was both powerful and transformative, the antithesis of what I’d feared.
Three years later, and this trifecta has become summer’s most anticipated aspect. I’m talking of course about Tony Fitzpatrick and Ann Filmer’s collaborative trio of plays, this July culminating with Nickel History: A Nation of Heat.
Like its antecedents, Nickel uses music (in this case singer Anna Fermin accompanied by guitarist John Rice) and visual art swirled with poetry to deliver a complex, multi-themed experience.
What’s interesting here is how the revisiting of form proves stimulating rather than derivative. This is evident both in Kristin Reeves’ ever more sophisticated videography and in the actors’ performances. In a nice coherence, these elements have built on their predecessors just as Fitzpatrick himself ruminates on personal and urban history, using memory to fuel forward motion.
Stan Klein, Fitzpatrick’s real life sidekick, specifically embodies this evolution. Klein’s affable, awkward presence has been an endearing aspect of each show. However, in Nickel he has his own plot arc: a surprisingly touching quest to become a Cubs usher. More than that, Klein has acclimated to the stage and moves through the show with a new ease.
Of course Fitzpatrick is always the one to watch. By turns angry and earnest and proud, he shepherds Nickel forward and backward through time, speaking lines both acerbic and profound with equal commitment.
However, in a show about father and sons, vocation vs avocation, and the past-times which bond friends over a lifetime, Fitzpatrick’s willingness to share the spotlight with Klein enriches an already rich theatrical experience.