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Arts and Entertainment

New First-Date Play Strikes a 'Nerve' at the El Centro

Nerve 1.jpg
Adam Silver and Anna Rubley in 'Nerve' (Photo: Nancy Lam)
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If you've ever been on a first date, there may have been at least a fleeting moment when some impression formed in your mind which—whether flattering or insulting, hopeful or disappointed—you recognized it would be inappropriate to express aloud, at least right away. But online daters Elliot (Adam Silver) and Susan (Anna Rubley), meeting for the first time in Adam Szymkowicz's play Nerve, aren't inhibited like that.

Elliot in particular seems entirely unaware of social conversation filters and their strategic potential; the pair have hardly sat down at their bar table before he's talking about the critical importance of their first kiss. A few moments later, he asks her to join him and his family on their upcoming vacation together. Susan, for her part, may be taken aback by his presumption for just a moment, but then it's no time at all before she's showing off the machete she carries around with her, revealing her self-destructive inclinations, and breaking out into dance as a mechanism of emotional release. Sex and violence follow, but it's not like you probably think. And one of them talks to a puppet.

Presumably, though not explicitly, named after the once-voguish internet dating forum, Nerve engagingly deconstructs the phenomenon of love at first sight between two would-be lovers who aren't sure they can stand the sight of themselves. Inevitably, over the course of their evening together, the balance of power shifts from one to the other and back again a few times, and Silver and Rubley are both well attuned to their protagonists' respective strengths and insecurities.

Nerve is the first full production by new L.A. theater company Sixth Avenue, which introduced itself with considerable elan at the Hollywood Fringe last spring. There is particularly strong work here by set and lighting designers Stephen Gifford and Sara Nishida, whose very believable New York bar room also becomes unbelievable at a couple key moments.

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"Nerve," directed by Michael Matthews, plays Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 through January 28 at the El Centro Theatre. Tickets $21.69. Thursday tickets available for $13.50 at plays411.net (using promo code 008) and $12 at LA Stage Tix.