Theater Review: Zarathustra Said Some Things, No?

Canadian novelist and playwright Trevor Ferguson’s new drama, Zarathustra Said Some Things, No?, is both a chillingly intimate, R-rated portrait of a pair of psychological self-flagellants and a Stoppardian cyclone of words.

The play has three powerful stars: Lina Roessler, who delivers a perfect storm of a performance as the tragically damaged Adrienne; Brett Watson, who starts as a whipped, whiny underbelly but goes brilliantly nova as Ricky, Adrienne’s companion in twisted love; and Ferguson’s language, florid, elegant, and fiery, not so much unrealistic as hyper-real, wholly and precisely expressive of the shared inner world of the two broken geniuses he spreads before us in all their psychological gore.

Compressed into one long afternoon in a messy Paris flat, the action – briskly directed by Robin A. Paterson – reveals the two characters’ relationship from its beginning through what could be its end, all told through hyperkinetic words and actions that cannot be disentangled into the spoken and the done. The play is disturbing and cathartic, familiar and strange.

Secrets are revealed in good dramatic fashion and suspense is built up and released skillfully. (Ferguson’s experience as a writer of mystery novels probably shows here). Some audience members may be dissatisfied as some plot points are left open to interpretation, but I was not. Though some mystery remains, the play is as much about the irreducible and irresistible power of language as it is about the effects of child abuse. The story is as resolved as the subject matter allows.

Roessler, who bears a superficial physical resemblance to Parkey Posey, is astonishingly facile with Ferguson’s squirms and turns of language. With almost supernatural energy she rolls (sometimes literally) through scenelet after scenelet, taking the play’s hard plot turns and abrupt mood shifts without a stumble, staying fluidly real through all the pointed artifice of the text like a fine Shakespearean actor does. She is, in a word, magnificent.

Watson, very nearly her match, shifts easily among his character’s several modes, from sexual submissive to parental stand-in to Prospero-like bard. These two very physical actors are as much the creators of this language-drenched world – where words themselves are soul, fate, and sex – as the playwright. The play, and these two performances, are easily among the best you’ll see on the off-Broadway stage this year.

Through May 21 at Theatre 54 in New York, a bargain at $30. Don’t bring your children. Do bring a sweater; the theater is chilly.