“Electric Nebraska” by Tom Willis
Nottingham New Theatre.
Set in the more intimate studio theatre of the New Theatre building on the University Campus, Tom Willis has written what could be a future masterpiece in the style of Quentin Tarantino. Tom, in my humble opinion, has a future in writing scripts for plays, films, whatever medium he’d like to work in as this play had me captured from the first scene to the last.
Set in upstate New York, Joe Lastowski, his wife Abigail and daughter Jeannie are struggling because Joe has just quit his job because of the way the boss was treating him. He meets a business man in a bar who gives him a tip on a “dead cert” winner of a horse called Electric Nebraska. After a lot of soul searching as to whether he can afford to gamble the little money he has, he takes the risk and places the bet. The horse doesn’t win and Joe loses the money. Joe’s not happy with this or Cus, the businessman who gives him the chance to win his money back, and decides that if he isn’t going to get his money back, then revenge is on the cards…..
The writing, acting and directing of the play creates a real air of tension and near the end of the play you realise that it could go one of two ways. Added to this the wonderful soundtrack including The Crystals, Billy Swan, Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams and Dion and the Belmonts. The writing is descriptive and rich, almost poetic at times. You get a rounded image of the characters when each of the three main characters take time out to tell the audience their “journey” to how they got where they are at that moment in time.
Shannon Smith as Joe, the head of the family, is excellent as the father who wants to provide and do what’s best for his family. He has a good social life but when pushed to the edge, Shannon brings a whole new side to Joe’s character.
Rachel Angeli is Abigail, the wife. A good solid performance and what a brilliantly consistent accent, always showing concern for her husband and daughter.
Jeannie, the daughter, played by Natalia Gonzalez, is intelligent, a budding writer and at 15 wants to be like her parents, sneakily grabbing a cigarette and a drink when left to her own devices.
Joe’s best friend and drinking buddy is Sam Kovic, played brilliantly by Aaron Tej. A proper male buddy; drinking. smoking, swearing with a bawdy sense of humour. A brilliant character driven role,which looks very natural for Aaron.
Joe and Sam’s joint friend is Dianna Casey, who also likes a drink in the bar. She comes across as the perfect female drinking partner who you know there’s going to be no sexual involvement, although there’s one piece of the play that hints at something that may or may not have happened in the past with her and Sam. The topic of the one bedroom apartment in Vegas was swiftly glossed over!
And so to Cus, the proverbial cat among the pigeons in the play. Played by Nick Gill with a wonderful devil may care attitude, in fact he could have been the devil personified as he mocked, teased and berated Joe for accepting the tip on Electric Nebraska and blaming him for his stupidity at having lost the money. He knew just what buttons to press and when he pushed Joe to the edge, he didn’t stop there. Small in stature compared with Joe, he didn’t even flinch when Joe offered him outside to settle their differences, even threatening Joe with coming back with more than anything Joe could threaten.
Nick completely enveloped himself in the role and some of his facial mannerisms were wonderful to behold. The almost sneering attitude made you want to punch him, and that’s so good for an actor to be able to make an audience member feel such emotion, as long as it’s towards the character and not the actor. In the same way as you felt for Joe’s predicament, you wanted something bad to happen to Cus.
The end of Act One leaves you wondering what Act two brings with a rather unnerving presence with Cus covertly watching the family in the bar.
A simple but effective set consisting of a table and chairs for the Lastowski home which bled nicely into the bar area for the secondary setting of Mike’s Bar
Director Harry Bradley has got together a brilliant cast and managed to create such an atmosphere that made you feel on edge for a lot of the time.
Part of that atmospheric feel should also be attributed to the lighting design of Joanne Blunt. The feel of the era, 1979, was also made the more realistic by the costumes, designed by Laura Jayne Bateman. No mention in the programme for the sound design which, with the sound effects and musical sound bites, which were very well chosen for the era and the feel of the play.
In summary, this is a play which deserves a wider audience due to the excellent writing and acting. In fact everything about it is retro-fresh and there’s definitely an audience for this film-noir style of theatre. I for one can’t wait to see what’s next for the actors and Tom Willis.