When I first picked up Denis Johnson's Nobody Move I knew there was going to be a Campo Santo staging of the noir thriller in the near future, and, as I turned the book's pages, the promise of this event seemed to pull me ever further into the action. Highly charged from the first sentence and ever careening forward, the book is a fast, satisfying read, and Campo Santo is known (and rightfully so) for their intense and innovative performances. Still excited for the premiere, though it's been more than a month since I finished the book, I was a little disappointed with the group's adaptation.
Nobody Move marks the first production in Intersection for the Arts' new home at 5M in the old San Francisco Chronicle building. After I arrived, I was escorted down a series of hallways and staircases, finally finding my seat in what used to be an old conference room. This was a perfect beginning to Nobody Move, which follows compulsive gambler Jimmy Luntz through the back roads and gritty byways of California and into the lives of some of its concomitant citizens, all in desperate search of a long shot score that could save them from impending doom. The room had an irregular shape to it, with low ceilings and a compressed feeling, as though the walls are closing in, which embodied the urgency that motivates the characters.
Catherine Castellanos as Anita
An exhilarated Campo Santo Program Director Sean San Jose addressed the full house audience of about 100 people before the play, thanking us for joining Intersection in their new location. Having just moved from their home of two-plus decades on Valencia Street, the ensemble had more to consider than simply how to adapt Johnson's latest book to the stage. I say "simply" because this is the tenth time Campo Santo has worked with Johnson, their resident playwright, and San Jose has worked on all 10 productions. "There was something about the pressure the characters were under that just felt right for this space," San Jose said, noting that Campo Santo plans to experiment further with the boundaries of performance space as they await the acquisition of a larger, more permanent home.
Tommy Shepherd as Juarez
The most impressive aspect of this play is indeed the company's use of space, particularly its use of lights to create many sub-scenes, spotlighting (with a flourish of music) the regular changes in atmosphere necessary to convey the non-stop action of the book's several mini story arcs, often working with cell phone calls -- broadcast over the loudspeakers -- to zoom the audience in or out of each scene. One of my favorite moments occurred when damsel in distress Anita, wife of a county prosecutor who has set her up as the fall girl in a scheme involving a corrupt judge, has a quiet, intimate conversation with Jimmy on a hotel bed in the dim light of the stage background while the primary action unfolds without them. This was not in the book and added, I think, quite a bit of depth to their characters.
Brian Rivera as Solly
So what was the problem? Though for the most part Campo Santo stuck closely to the actual text (diverging quite substantially toward the end, and not without an additional monologue or two in the middle), this production gave me a very different feel than I got from reading the book. The characters all seemed to be more bound by a sense of fate, as though they'd been thrown into the nearby Feather River and were simply being pushed forward by the unrelenting force of the narrative. Despite this, they often seemed to be taking it easy, joking amongst themselves, and making light of their situations. It's as if each little picture, which leads to the next, and eventually paints the bigger picture, has nothing to do with this bigger picture. It's as if these characters do not have a choice; they seem exaggerated, over the top, as though we are supposed to laugh at them or understand them as caricatures, though in the book there is really nothing funny about them.
Nonetheless, this production is an entertaining, non-stop tour-de-force of psychological implications. Though I don't agree with the reading of the text, the acting was solid and the major themes are still accessible and profound.
Nobody Move runs through Sunday, June 12th, 2011 at Intersection 5M in San Francisco. For tickets and informationvisit theintersection.org. The event is on a sliding scale of $20-$35, and Thursdays are pay-what-you-can.
All photos: Pak Han, except as noted.