Adam Szymkowicz's Nerve is like a nightmarish first date -- except in this scenario, instead of one normal and one crazy person, both parties are so intensely neurotic they almost make a perfect match.
It starts quietly. After a movie, Susan and Elliot have drinks at a local bar. Sitting together at a puny table, they make nervous small talk. As the beers multiply, their true personalities emerge.
Elliott (Travis York) gives a new definition to "tightly wound." Though obsessive in previous relationships -- two ex-girlfriends have restraining orders against him -- he claims he's "not like that anymore." Yet within minutes he gushes to Susan how "it feels right" to be with her and professes his undying love. Then he pulls back completely, punishing himself for admitting his attraction too soon.
Susan (Susan Louise O'Connor) is his opposite. While he externalizes his neuroses, she internalizes. Whenever fear grips her, she escapes by imagining herself performing in an elaborate dance piece. She cuts herself on the arm to "stop the voices" in her head.
Despite all this, they fall in love. But it's too much, so they decide to break up. Then they're back together. Then they break up. These romantic reversals are all played out in one continuous scene, mind you. It gets a little ridiculous at times, but that seems to be the point -- these characters are extreme. Whether you buy into that or not depends mightily on who's playing them.
Luckily, this production works thanks to the abilities of O'Connor and York. Playing the characters with verve and 120% commitment, the two actors bring them fully to life. In less capable hands, it probably would not have been as entertaining or touching.
Scott Ebersold's brisk direction gives the play a nice, feverish pace. Wendy Seyb's tasteful choreography adds without being distracting.
Presented by Packawallop Productions and Hypothetical Theatre Company
at the 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14th St., NYC.
June 12-July 1. Mon., 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.