The format of Adam Szymkowicz's two-hander from 2006—a young couple at a bar at the end of their first date—is not only deceptively simple, it's also a meditation on a number of issues related to love and romance, marriage, pairing off, and self-image and identity. As such, it's an absolute showcase for the actors cast as Elliot and Susan.
Having met online, the two New Yorkers wind up on their first date at a bar where the more outgoing Elliot tentatively prods the intensely private Susan for personal information. After a series of often hilarious dating gaffes, the two profess their mutual love, engaging in passionate necking and declaring themselves to be in a relationship. What we later learn explains the immediate past while possibly predicting the course of their affair.
Like the characters they play, Casey Long, as Elliot, and Jessie Withers, as Susan, must walk a tightrope between revealing too much, thereby tipping Szymkowicz's hand, and not revealing enough, thereby making the revelations in the second half of "Nerve" seem implausible. That both actors do so testifies to their skill, as well as the directing talent of Marya Mazor, who allows the evening's events to unfold in a stylized, semi-surreal way that nonetheless rings of reality thanks to the playwright's good ear for natural speech.
Long's Elliot moves from talkative Regular Joe to intensely romantic to semi-obsessive stalker type. Withers tops him in the more challenging role of Susan, at first guarded and diffident, then a thin-skinned lass with frayed nerves, and, finally, a full-blown, pathologically needy neurotic (and possibly worse). Most eerie is how shards of dialogue may ring in your ears from your own relationships past, a tribute to this skillful script and the talented cast.
Presented by and at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Feb. 5–27. Thu.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Also Sun., 7 p.m., Feb. 27.) (714) 777-3033. www.chancetheater.com.