Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A man and a woman randomly meet each other and seem to hate each other’s guts. They’re total polar opposites. Gradually, they get more comfortable with each other, express themselves, and fall in love. Sound familiar? This is essentially what happens in the play Nexus, by Danielle Mohlman, performed on Zoom. However, Nexus adds a small twist by asking the question: What if they were in the “hating each other’s guts” phase for their entire relationship?
When the man (MJ Sieber) and woman (Keiko Green) first meet at a bus stop, you could already tell the guy was pushy. As the play progressed, and the couple met at various locations—a museum, their house, another museum, yet another museum, why do they keep going to museums?—we were struck by the consistent horribleness of the man. He picked a fight with her when she found out she had a tumor— which turned out to be benign, but yikes! But I guess that’s okay, because she’s horrible too! At one point she just went to Baltimore without telling him. Is this what adulthood is really like? Because if so...that sucks.
The play repeatedly jumped us with increasingly unpleasant interactions between the couple, which although jarring, weren’t exactly anything new. The man flirted by bragging about how many films he’d seen. The woman flirted by insulting him and talking about her baggage with her ex-boyfriend. The man berated her for not keeping fresh garlic in her apartment, sanctimoniously describing the act of chopping garlic as “meditative.” It wasn’t cute. Although their new relationship energy had some electricity as they tentatively shared music and explored their common ground, it quickly wore off and became quite obvious that their relationship would not last. When the two aren’t fighting, they’re pretty much always play-fighting, and they only seem capable of being genuine when they’re at each other’s throats. It makes for a relationship which just constantly feels mean-spirited; at no point were we rooting for them. We don’t want to see a perfect relationship for two hours, but the relationship in Nexus simply wasn’t compelling.
There were a few moments where the man was portrayed as a sympathetic character, but to be honest, he was just the Worst. His main mode of communication is to completely tear apart his girlfriend in a manner which occasionally comes off as affectionate. Nexus succeeded when it leaned into placing the couple in the context of the social systems that shape them: power dynamics in straight relationships, gentrification, even a brief nod to arts accessibility in a scene where the two go to an opera. However, these moments were all too few. The power dynamics between the man and his girlfriend—performed by a woman of color—were never explicitly addressed, leaving a relevant point about microaggressions in relationships disappointingly underdeveloped. Perhaps this was an attempt at portraying broken relationships in a humanizing manner...unfortunately, Nexus failed to do so. To be quite frank, it was an hour and a half of humanizing a trash bag in a vineyard vines shirt.
We’re also not sure that a Zoom call was best suited for this play, which changed locations more than twenty times. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, a live performance of this play would perhaps allow the audience to a) physically see the changes in set and the show’s progression, and b) not fight the urge to multitask. We often found our attention drifting, which prevented at least a few of us from following the storyline. Although both actors were emotive and believable given the circumstances, the script wasn’t strong enough to overcome the inconvenience of quarantine. The script failed to make either character likable, or at least interesting, enough to warrant an hour and a half’s worth of arguments. If you’re going to perform a character-driven dialogue without sets, costume changes, or even the actors standing up from their chairs, those characters have to pop. Nexus’ unnamed man and woman did not.
Sure, the Zoom call wasn’t the best channel for performing a play, and sure, sometimes the actors would miss a cue or hold up a scene card upside-down. But, Nexus' attempt at a live performance was still able to capture a little bit of the magic of sitting in a theater. Just being in a space with other arts lovers (even if not a physical one), hearing them chuckle at the canned jokes, and applaud at the end made us feel like a member of a live, in-person audience.
Although the intent of this “watch-a-play-at-home” experiment was good, we weren’t sure what the show itself was trying to say. Was this an example of an abusive relationship, or was it showing that sometimes people just grow apart naturally? We can’t say. Maybe it was because the storyline wasn’t clear, or maybe it just wasn’t captivating enough to hold our attention.
Nexus is performed on Zoom every weekend from April 17-May 17. For more information see here.