From left: Paul Sparks and Connor Barrett in Adam Rapps play Finer Noble Gases, about becoming disconnected.
Examining angst and inertia
By Davida Singer
In a seedy East Village apartment, five members of a washed up rock band mindlessly watch T.V., until someone kicks it in and theyve got to figure out what to do next. This is the premise of Adam Rapps new existential play, Finer Noble Gases, the opener for Rattlestick Theaters fall festival dedicated to his work.
The essence of the play for me is about how we stop feeling and become disconnected from ourselves, says Rapp. In my late 20s, I felt like I was winding down. I hadnt found my audience. I was without feedback, so it was like working in a vacuum, and that can be toxic. I got the title from the chemical term. Fine noble gases are inert gases that dont combine.
Now 36, Rapp has turned his own angst and inertia around. Hes published several novels, is resident playwright for the Edge Theater Company, has earned himself numerous awards, and his critically acclaimed Stone Cold Dead Serious was named one of Burns Mantle Ten Best Plays of the 2002-2003 season.
Ive always loved the idea of making up stories, he said. But the writing really started in college when I dropped out of Pre-Med and found an amazing poetry class. I took up a pencil and it was organic. I fell in love with it, branched into fiction and finally started doing plays.
In 1991, right after graduation, Rapp came to New York to live with his brother (actor Anthony Rapp) in the Village, where he finished a novel and became an avid fan of theater, especially affected by works of Caryl Churchill and Sam Shepard.
My first play was produced in 1993, says the writer. Early themes were on the strange darkness that lurks in families. Then I shifted to more political and social ideas - whatever keeps me up at night - like isolation and existential questions.
Finer Noble Gases is an important piece for me - all about music, loss of inspiration and inertia. This rock band forgets what theyre about and gets into drugs. They speak in non-sequiturs and their apartment is like a hellhole. Theyre trust-fund kids, and one who moves furniture. The plot is about how theyre going to get another T.V., so it grows into a farce from an existential kind of thing, with no act breaks, and at the end they actually perform rock music in a flashback dream sequence.
According to Rapp, the band is very real and talented. It includes drummer Ray Rizzo and Rapp himself, (he sings and plays guitar), and theyre actually performing several gigs downtown in October. Tech for Finer Noble Gases completes the scene with stadium rock lights and edgy direction by Michael Garces.
Hes a great choice for this ensemble, Rapp notes. Hes also an actor, a playwright, and he was a drummer, so hes obviously sensitive to the material and the actors. Even so, its a challenge in a small theater with limited finances, getting all the tech stuff right. But my writing style fits the space. Its spare, with short sentences. These characters dont have much breath left, and it all works well in an intimate space because it feels more enclosed.
If everything comes together, people will laugh and feel troubled at once, he adds. For me, this is a wake-up call for artists struggling with their work, plus the importance of connection to loved ones. Its both drama and farce, disturbing and very graphic. One of my missions is to attract a younger audience. Im reaching out to people who are not conventional theater goers, and hoping to get them hooked.