Presented by The Circuit Theatre Company
A rock musical by Ned Riseley and Deepali Gupta
Directed by Abby Colella
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston) Referred to only as “Girl” in the cast list, it feels as if Ellie Shepley’s character in Nicky Park Memorial Park is meant to embody some sort of universal narrative of being a young woman. Instead, Deepali Gupta’s play distills what it means to be thoughtful and introspective. The result is a drama about figurative and literal ghosts of the past, a love letter to nostalgia that never quite crystallizes into a story.
The little plot there is involves Ellie Shepley’s character attending a Fourth of July concert. As she sits in her lawn chair, she addresses the audience. What starts as a bubbly story about being ten-years old and disliking soccer practice becomes a meditation on a childhood obsession with a dead boy (Ned Riseley).
The titular Nicky is revealed to be Shepley’s ambiguously imaginary friend. She talks with him often in circular conversations that a girl would have with a much-needed friend or idealized boyfriend. Their discussions take place as Shepley chronicles her childhood friends, her discovery of sex, and her interest in the Monica Lewinksy scandal.
Nicky Park Memorial Park alternates effortlessly between moments that are funny and sad. It mixes these conflicting tones with skill, but the songs that accompany Ellie Shepley’s monologues don’t fit as well. The band is excellent, with Gupta on violin, Michelle Miglori on bass, Zach Roth on guitar, and Ned Riseley on keyboard, but they don’t provide any new layers to Shepley’s story. Instead, the music just serves as a break between the action. It doesn’t really fit together. Unfortunately, this makes it feel as if Shepley’s character is not only an outsider in the mid-nineties childhood she describes but also within her own play.
Ellie Shepley has excellent stage presence, but she often plays her character with a note of hysteria in her voice. I was confused about where this panic comes from. She’s a girl in a comfortable, middle class upbringing without anything particularly special going on in her life and it’s difficult to understand what has her so terrified. Maybe she’s just afraid of growing up.
Her anecdotes don’t build to much of a conclusion. Instead of a plot, her story just has a sense of wonder within the mundane. This is fine, as her musings on Bill Clinton are interesting on their own, but Shepley takes the stage as a mysterious character and leaves it just as mysteriously. We learn about her obsessions but never about the vulnerable person beneath. It’s strange to have a play with many, tiny revelations but no big reveal.
Still, Shepley’s character is relatable and sweet. Her romance with a boy who’s passed on is not only endearing but gently executed. Shepley’s character is never labeled as delusional or out-of-touch, she’s just coping with the world the best way she knows how. It’s a nice, solid play and I’ll be interested in seeing what Deepali Gupta and the Circuit Theatre Company will be doing in the future.