Black Box Correspondent Mark Hay attended last night’s performance of NOMADS’s latest production:

Your correspondent arrived early to last night’s production of “The (Love) Story of Myrtle Willoughby and Willough Myrtleby (and the Neighbors)” to attend its Opening Gala—mainly due to the promise of free food—where I happened to meet Kurt Kanazawa (CC’11), president of NOMADS (New and Original Material Authored and Directed by Students, the group behind the production).  He spoke briefly on his intent to bring the group into more exciting and experimental grounds, such as by adding an element of smell to theater and doing a play in ASL.

Not to sound stodgy, but when artistic undergrads use the word “experimental” to describe their work, red flags go off. I entered the theater with great skepticism, expecting possibly a strangled take on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or some long, painful indie experience. To Mr. Kanazawa, and especially to writer Cassandra Adair (BC’12) and director Katie Lupica (CC’11), your reviewer owes you a sincere and profound apology for my doubts.

“(Love) Story” is the story of one smile between two strangers, and of all that such a smile can lead to. The play centers around Willough Myrtleby (Ravenna Koenig, BC’12) and the younger Myrtle Willoughby (Casey Hayes, CC’10), who has all but lived under Willough’s window for the last seven years, waiting for Willough to return her love. Despite her odd hobby, Myrtle is essentially a darling character – a tangle of hair, a huge smile, and sparkling, lightly smoldering, doe eyes. The cautious and measured, yet curious and intrigued Willough struggles with her feelings for the strange and unabashedly poetic girl under her window. She and the audience together fly back and forth from acceptance to doubt to resentment to curious longing, questioning how we should feel about Myrtle, how we should react to love, and how exactly love comes about.

Strange as this may sound, it is really just the logical conclusion of a common romantic notion: the fantasies one creates while passing someone on the street. We’ve all had such scenarios play out in our heads before, and there is something both comforting and disquieting about seeing one laid out for us on the stage.  The experience is made all the more tangible by Hayes’ and Koenig’s incredible dynamic; it’s difficult to believe that the two leads could have fostered such an intense, nuanced interplay in a mere five-week rehearsal period.  Just like the transitional music (equal parts Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens), the show is heartfelt and deeply honest, and one which I am sure some people will hate. But I’d venture to say that anyone willing to embrace so much as a smidgen of romance, longing, or sentiment in his or her soul will find something to love in “(Love) Story.”

This play will leave a knotted ball of emotion in your guts, and maybe you’ll hate Adair and Lupica just a bit for not having the courtesy to untangle it all and leave you with a conventional ending. But if you are anything like last night’s audience, you’ll be applauding explosively nonetheless. Unexpected and inventive, raw and passionate—at times effusively poetic, but your critic cannot imagine it being any other way—“(Love) Story” will make you feel, and it would be a shame to waste that. See it while you can, tonight at 8 PM and tomorrow at 2 PM and 8 PM in the Lerner Black Box Theater. Tickets are available at the TIC.

– Mark Hay