Theater archives

Philosophy Professor Ponders Her Tragic Losses


Don Nigro’s Cincinnati is the current first-rate entry in the frequently held Woman Verging on a Nervous Breakdown Play sweepstakes. In this 60-minute monologue, the figure swaying precariously on the edge is philosophy of literature professor Susan. Entering on the run, she stalks around her desk, explaining—more in outburst than lecture—that “we consume ourselves, born dying . . . Marcus Aurelius grows mute and foolish compared to the horror on the porch swing.” She further describes a series of disturbing pre-class incidents, which may be partially paranoid fantasy. As Nigro contrives it, Susan, mourning the death in a fire of her only daughter, cleverly draws us into tacit confirmation of her fears by asking whether her pessimism is misplaced. The audience remains silent.

Directed for every telling nuance by John Clancy, Nancy Walsh embodies Susan with terrifying immediacy. (Nigro’s work, adapted from a 1977 video project, was first presented at Indiana State University in 1981; Walsh performed it at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and briefly in Manhattan earlier this year.) Walsh, Clancy, Nigro, and lighting designer Eric Nightengale understand they’re working with something of Beckettian weight. And to the implied question “Can we let Sam down?” they each implicitly respond, “Not I.”