Barely 90 minutes long—with an intermission—"Nightsong" needs almost everything, including better-defined characters and a more developed plot. (The one unambiguous success here is Jaret Sacrey's lovely moonlit River Styx–side dock set, complete with foreboding rowboat to you know where.) There's nothing subtle or compelling in Bach's needlessly nonlinear telling (it's Act 2 before we get the devilish-pact setup explained). For Faust to work yet again, the narrative should offer up some new twist or insight. Something important must be at stake, even if it's just the Yankees losing the American League pennant. None of this is likely to come from Bach's aging, alcoholic, and failed poet Harry, who is hapless at finishing the sequel to his one hit collection, "Nightsong," from five years before, and halfheartedly suicidal. There's no help from his long-lost and newly affectionate daughter, his shrewish ex-wife, or his girlfriend of 10 years, a former poetry groupie with Eve Harrington tendencies. Harry's two faculty colleagues and the boatman and his idiot assistant never fully mesh into the proceedings either.
Actors can often transcend a weak script—but not here. Most of the eight players are merely adequate, a couple of them are worse than that, and all are underrehearsed. As Harry's girlfriend Sheila, Nicole Gabriella Scipione comes closest to fleshing out an underwritten part. As Harry, John DiFusco effuses too much energy for a hard-drinking, self-described failure deep on the downslide. For us in the audience, there's neither enough cause for sympathy for anyone on stage nor any real sense of menace regarding their fates.
Presented by John Stark at TBG Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., NYC. Jan. 13–30; Thu.–Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m. (212) 868-4444 or www.smartix.com.