The Nerve brings timely ‘Burning Boy’ to PNC Arts Annex

Nerve Theatre's production of "The Dream of the Burning Boy" will be held Oct. 21-31 at the PNC Arts Annex.
Caption
Nerve Theatre's production of "The Dream of the Burning Boy" will be held Oct. 21-31 at the PNC Arts Annex.

Credit: KNACK PHOTO + VIDEO

Credit: KNACK PHOTO + VIDEO

“The script focuses on intense feelings of grief and loss that so many of us are dealing with right now,” said co-director A.J. Breslin

Continuing its reputation of producing edgy, raw and thought-provoking theater, The Nerve, formerly known as The Playground, opens its 2021-2022 season with David West Read’s 2011 drama “The Dream of the Burning Boy” Oct. 21-31 at the PNC Arts Annex.

The Nerve presents "The Dream of the Burning Boy" Oct. 20-31, 2021 at the PNC Arts Annex.
Caption
The Nerve presents "The Dream of the Burning Boy" Oct. 20-31, 2021 at the PNC Arts Annex.

Credit: KNACK PHOTO + VIDEO

Credit: KNACK PHOTO + VIDEO

In this story of sorrow and facing fears, high school teacher Larry Morrow has been falling asleep at his desk and dreaming ever since the sudden death of Dane, his favorite student. As Dane’s sister and friends attempt to cope along with the entire school, Larry’s dreams intensify and a shocking secret is exposed. The play is notably described as being about “finding the strength to move on… and the courage to live without regret.”

Nerve co-founders and spouses Christopher Hahn and Jenna Valyn have been fans of “Burning Boy” since seeing Chicago’s Profiles Theatre production in 2013. They originally planned to produce it pre-pandemic but feel the play is more relevant now.

“The play touches on how to navigate grief and sort of find hope through tragedy, which is 100 percent something that resonates with everybody right now because of the pandemic and what we’ve been through collectively as humans,” said Valyn, who co-directs with A.J. Breslin. “What I love about this play is that it shows the unique ways that people grieve differently. How an adult grieves is very different than how a teenager grieves. This show represents that really well.”

“The script focuses on intense feelings of grief and loss that so many of us are dealing with right now,” Breslin echoed. “These are feelings that are incredibly difficult to articulate and we feel a certain reluctance to address them for fear that it makes our trauma real. By speaking about it, it makes it exist where we could otherwise ignore it. But, as the play shows us, when we shut out those feelings to avoid feeling hurt or guilt, we also shut out any chance at joy and redemption.”

Hahn, previously seen in “Reasons To Be Pretty,” “Jailbait,” “Tape” and “The Library” among others, portrays grief-stricken Larry, a role he considers among his most challenging to date. Even so, he says it has been a healing, cathartic process.

“It’s a heavy role,” Hahn admitted. “I’m tapping into the despair and hopelessness I felt going through the pandemic. I hope I can be a vessel in some way for the audience’s grief and catharsis. Anytime you’re watching another human go through some kind of traumatic life event it has an impact.”

Joining Hahn are Liz Lindon as Rachel, Skyler McNeely as Steve, Stephanie Ridgeway Johnson as Chelsea, Ricky Yannotti as Kyle, Kaleigh-Brooke Scheiding as Andrea, and Connor Gray as Dane.

In addition to reiterating the importance of how the play makes us view the world today, McNeely regards the script as a testament to what the troupe does best.

“The world we live in now, for a lot of people, feels a bit darker and I know a lot of people are struggling with how to move forward from here,” he said. “This play challenges the audience but in a wholly empathetic form. What The Nerve strives to do is tell stories that put words to those ugly, hard, beautiful emotions that make us all human.”

“A lot of people want to go to the theater to be entertained, but for the most part we try to pick shows that have a thread of truth and humanity in them,” Hahn said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a deep drama all the time, but I feel the plays we do set us apart.”

Read, a Julliard School graduate and Toronto native, has written a string of plays including “The Performers” and “The Great Pretender.” He is perhaps best known as a writer and executive producer of the kooky TV comedy “Schitt’s Creek,” which swept the 2020 Emmys for its acclaimed final season.

“You can see little bits and pieces of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ in the writing style of this show,” Valyn said. “There is dark comedy within this very poignant drama.”

Valyn is also pleased about the soundtrack she’s crafted to help set the tone as soon as the audience enters. Expect to hear tunes from Phoebe Bridgers, Iron & Wine, The National, and Death Cab for Cutie among others.

As thoughts of the pandemic take hold in addition to the most recent school shooting at Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas, Nerve organizers are mindful of how profound and therapeutic “Burning Boy” could be.

“Ultimately, these characters are able to wrestle through tragedy to find hope in community,” Breslin said. “We want the audience to walk away feeling hopeful about finding these connections in their own Dayton community.”

HOW TO GO

What: “The Dream of the Burning Boy”

Where: PNC Arts Annex, 46 W. Second St., Dayton

When: Oct. 21-31; 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $22; There are also two Pay What You Want performances on Wed. Oct 20 and Wed. Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. The Oct. 27 performance will feature a talkback with the cast after the show. Tickets will be available at the door for both performances.

Tickets: Call Dayton Live at 937-228-3630 or visit nervetheatre.org

FYI: The show is rated PG-13 for language and patrons are reminded the play deals with death and grief. Also, patrons 12 and over attending performances at Dayton Live venues will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry. Masks must also be worn inside all Dayton Live venues for patrons 6 and over.

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