Burning Coal Theatre
Murphey School Auditorium
Through March 24

Solo shows are a nervy business: It takes a special brand of chutzpah to stand alone before an audience for an hour on stage. Having done it myself, I was afraid actor Jesse Gephart was giving in to nerves in the opening sequences of Nocturne, playwright Adam Rapp’s compelling drama that marks the first production of Mortall Coile Theatre.

Thankfully, what started as a rapid and airless recital of witty and dramatic lines shortly gave way to a much more believable conversation with this tortured, unnamed central character, an alienated young writer who has hidden for years behind a wall of books.

What’s he hiding from? That fact that he accidentally killed his younger sister when he was 17 years old. Under Dana Marks’ direction, Gephart’s character uses aesthetics, kitsch, grammar and a ferociously keen intellect at first to keep his true feelings at bay. But slowly, painfully, believably, he comes to grips with the events and its aftermath.

Rapp’s script is by turns graphic, gritty and poetic as its hero walks a labyrinth of guilt. On Jon Haas and Marks’ set constructed entirely of books, Gephart sparkles with the playwright’s wit before his vulnerability unfolds like a rare and damaged orchid on stage.

The only question remaining at the end of Nocturne involves who we are as listeners. Given so fundamentally insular a central character, to whom could he be telling this story? But this cavil likely won’t detract from your appreciation of this solo journey.

This article appeared in print with the headline “The English speaking, and singing, world.”