Tommy Nugent spends a good deal of time onstage (and presumably off) wondering whether what he’s doing is theater. That’s pretty odd, considering that he’s a performer in a theater festival, albeit a fringe festival — but still.
And his piece is called Tommy Nugent’s The Show. When the word “show” is in a title, that’s a bit of a binding contract. Then again, everything about Nugent and his piece is a touch odd. And that, my friends, isn’t a bad thing.
Because what you have in The Show is a man who definitely isn’t constrained by the conventional trappings of theater. He sits in the audience during the pre-show speech. He admits out loud any number of times when a joke he delivers bombs. (“That was a lot funnier in my head just now.”) He also bases most of his act on magic tricks and self-realization exercises. The whole stew boils up to the moment where Nugent has to decide if he’s going to play a real-life round of Russian roulette in front of a live studio audience. The Sound of Music this ain’t.
A self-described traveling philosopher, Nugent uses The Show to describe his quirky, eventful life to this point and talks eloquently about living in the cycle, circling around and around the same behavior. Each bounce-back, though, gets a little tougher, he says. He admits with a small glint of self-deprecating pride that his two previous occupations in essence led him to a life of performance: magician and preacher.
“I combined the world’s two cheesiest professions,” he says.
The performance hits its stride — and arguably peaks — in those first few moments of the show. Nugent attempts what he calls “the card trick of death.” Really that just means doing sleight of hand while shackled in a straitjacket. It’s impressive, funny and creates some great performer-audience energy. One wishes there were more stunts like that peppered throughout the piece.
Not that Nugent lets up. He is having fun, that much is clear. He smiles, laughs at his own jokes. He gets worked up and a vein going right down the center of his forehead bulges. He’s into his show. Theater or not.
But the second half loses its way when Nugent takes out the gun and explains what was to be his big “performance art” finale. Breaking surely some kind of illusionist code, he details how he figured out a way to use a real gun and a real bullet and play Russian roulette with a 98-99 percent chance of success. But recent headlines and a phone call from his wife convinced him to reconsider. Or at least to acknowledge that a 98 percent success rate still means a 2 percent chance of failure.
But failure surely means some form of theatrical immortality.
What to do? To pull the trigger or not, that is the question. Without spoiling the surprise, or at least the compromised ending that Nugent and his family could live with, it’s clear that this is an edited draft of a script.
The ending doesn’t have that necessary bang, but rather a loud dull thud. It’s still marginally interesting though somewhat unsatisfying. After a promising start, that can also be said of The Show in general. Grade: C
— Rodger Pille