Streetlight Theatre Company

Set in an unnamed totalitarian country in the “not-too-distant future,” God Nose tells the story of an honest citizen named Lug who, through no fault of his own, runs afoul of the country’s repressive judicial system.

It seems that in this land, it is taboo to leave your nose uncovered in public. Everyone wears a second, rubber nose fitted, in a nice Vonnegut touch, with a tiny radio transmitter (a la “Harrison Bergeron”).

Our hero finds himself at odds with his society when, on the morning before he is to be married, his false nose mysteriously rises off his face as he sleeps and levitates into the flies. (A minor miracle that is never really explained.) Moments later Lug awakens from uneasy dreams to discover to his horror that his nose has disappeared. After a quick search of his apartment, Lug realizes he has become a social outcast. And worse still, he has to flee underground, because having no false nose is a capital offense.

While this may sound like a promising enough premise for a dark, absurdist play, in playwright Kim Curlee’s less than capable hands, what might have been an interesting one-act is instead a tedious 90-minute play.

Part of the problem is that Curlee does not allow the narrative to develop naturally. He awkwardly pushes the story into the courtroom and devotes a good hour’s worth of valuable time on Lug’s blatantly unfair (and decidedly unfunny) trial. The fact that the jury is ready to declare Lug guilty before the trial begins doesn’t help things either. An hour is a long time to watch any trial onstage. But it’s an especially long time to watch a kangaroo court come to the conclusion you knew they were going to come to all along.

Throughout the long and pointless trial, Lug’s nose hangs quite visibly in the flies (where it has been hanging since the play’s mysterious first scene). Whenever one of the bullying authority figures asked Lug where his nose was, it was hard not to answer, “It’s right up there, your honor, next to that row of lights.”

Curlee tries to liven things up with a number of very silly gags, the worst being a running bit in which Lug’s best friend, Spike, keeps getting knocked unconscious by the judge’s gavel. Not only is this old gag painfully unfunny, but Spike happens to be one of the few characters in the play you care about. Unfortunately, he spends most of the play unconscious–an inefficient use of the character. But then again, as this bloated and ponderous script shows, efficient story telling is definitely not one of Curlee’s gifts.

Curlee is much better at fattening up his story line, padding out the dialogue with the pseudo-Shakespearean doggerel that only stoned undergraduates would consider “deep.” (“Speak to me of what I don’t know so I can speak with like surprise.”) Every once in a while, in spite of himself, Curlee writes a genuinely interesting bit of dialogue, such as when Lug greets the morning sun with “So another day has begun as it always begins, at the beginning.” But most of the time, Curlee’s characters only manage to say in ten words what they could have said in five.

It’s clear that Curlee has not thought through the full ramifications of his premise. If everyone in this future society must wear false noses, how come there is no place to go to replace a nose that gets broken or lost? If every nose is fitted with a homing device, why can’t the government use their sophisticated electronic equipment to help Lug locate his nose? (It’s right up there in the flies!) And on a more metaphorical note, what does it mean that a nervous young man loses his very phallic-looking nose on the day he is supposed to marry? (No, a nose is not just a nose; this is his wedding day, after all.)

It’s clear that Curlee desperately wanted to write a “deep” play. He’s packed the work with plenty of indications of “deep thinking”: poetic language, archaic costumes, and long, boring speeches. And it’s also clear that Curlee is trying to create a satirical fantasy on the order of Gulliver’s Travels or Gogol’s short story, “The Nose.” But for all its highfalutin aspirations and its complex, poetic language, God Nose reveals less about human nature than your average Dr. Seuss book. (Curlee should read Seuss’s story about the Sneeches, a seminal work on the arbitrariness of cultural signs of status. and social acceptability, before he attempts his next rewrite.)

Watching God Nose I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor, hapless actors. Director David Nava has cast a number of capable and well-trained performers who act their hearts out to bring this stillborn play to life (and fail). Scott Lowell and Mark Morettini, in particular, perform miracles onstage as Lug and Spike. Both are able to turn Curlee’s preposterous script into acceptable dialogue, and Morettini even manages (in those moments when he’s not being knocked out) to squeeze a feeling or two out of Curlee’s cool, emotionally dead text.