If there was ever a play I wanted to like, it's the University of Pittsburgh production of Gao Xingjian's The Nocturnal Wanderer. A Chinese writer persecuted by the Communist government, Xingjian fled to Paris after he wrote a play about Tiananmen Square; in 2000, he won the Nobel for literature. It is, however, doubtful he won for The Nocturnal Wanderer. Listen, I should get a Nobel just for sitting through it.
We're on some scummy city street where our no-named hero roams about in his pajamas and bathrobe. Everyone he meets is weirder than him and the whole thing is overlaid with the threat of unnamed violence; it's like Sesame Street written by Franz Kafka.
In fact, had they spoken German it would have been easier to understand. The hero refers to himself as "you" and prefaces every sentence with "you say" meaning "I said." So if someone asks him what he's doing, he responds, "You say, you were going to the store." It's even more confusing when he refers to other people as "you" as well, as in "You say, 'Who do you think you are?'" And the other characters sometimes refer to themselves in the third person, so a typical exchange runs like this:
Hero: You say, "What are you doing?"
Thug: He said he was going to kill you.
For two acts?
It might have been less irritating if the story itself were interesting, but it's sloppy film noir parody with comic-book tough-guy posturing. And the only female character is a prostitute who gets shot and decapitated.
With the addition of an incomprehensible lighting design by Peter Fedyshin and extravagantly clumsy direction from Paul "Spike" Wilson, the evening remains remote throughout. The only thing rising out of the mire is this fierce cast. I can't imagine how they motivate this every night, and I applaud Parag S. Gohel, Nate Jedrzejewski, Brittany Andrews, Andy Ris and Brenden Gallagher.
The Nocturnal Wanderer continues through Sun., Oct. 15. Studio Theatre in the Cathedral of Learning, Fifth Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-624-PLAY.