The Challenger disaster, the Superbowl, and the dissolution of Nick's parents' marriage intertwine in Timothy Mansfield's explosive and relentless drama, January 1986, a fascinating if slightly problematic memory play that warns of the danger of memory. As the play unfolds, it becomes clearer not only how mixed-up Nick's memories are but why Nick is retreating into this one. Mansfield has a good ear for language, and lines linger long after they are spoken. All three actors deliver impressive performances. Ian McWethy as Nick manages the difficult task of portraying both a man of 30 and a child of nine in the same scene without resorting to kid cliches. Jona Tuck as Nick's frequently beaten mom inspires compassion without victimizing her character, and Adam Nowack creates a father who is both scarily violent and sympathetic.
The set, a small table, chairs and counter in the background and a couch, table, and TV set in the foreground, perfectly evokes a small suburban house with just the right amount of detail to make it personal.
The play shifts back and forth between the imagined past and an imagined present where Nick, now 30, struggles to understand his memories through fictional conversations with his parents and flights of fancy. The boundary between these time spaces is thin, however, and while this method of storytelling is fresh and inventive, it can often disorient the audience, as it is hard to tell where the characters are.
Since this is a memory play, many scenes deal in reconstructing the way life was--where dad was sitting as he watched the Superbowl, where mom and dad made scuff marks on the floor--but sometimes the lines that begin with "I remember" become too numerous, and the scenes become bogged down with description. Michael Kimmel's inventive direction makes these scenes interesting to watch, as the characters move seamlessly from stationary positions to acting out a memory and then back again, but there needs to be more of a balance between the recounting scenes and the scenes of immediate action.
A captivating story, great dialogue, and exceptional acting lift January 1986 above its minor problems. Mansfield is definitely a playwright to watch.
Note: This production is part of the 2007 NYC International Fringe Festival.