The Nerve presents edgy ‘Friend Art’ at PNC Arts Annex

Front Row: Sha-Lemar Davis (Lil), A.J. Breslin (Kevin); Back Row: Lauren Everett (Molly), Chris Hahn (Nate) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Front Row: Sha-Lemar Davis (Lil), A.J. Breslin (Kevin); Back Row: Lauren Everett (Molly), Chris Hahn (Nate) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Sofia Alvarez’s coming-of-age comedy receives Dayton premiere.

Proudly carrying the millennial banner of producing raw, relevant theater in Dayton, The Nerve returns with the local premiere of Sofia Alvarez’s edgy, coming-of-age 2016 comedy “Friend Art” May 19-29 in the PNC Arts Annex.

Set in New York City, the play concerns four friends grappling with adulting and changing dynamics within their relationships. Molly and Kevin are about to get married, but situations turn when Kevin realizes he no longer wants the regular life he convinced Molly to live with him. In the meanwhile, Kevin’s once-famous old friend Nate just broke up with Lil, a performance artist who used to work with Molly, a former aspiring actress. As this foursome grows conflicted, the play seeks to address what it means to support the arts with its unique title referring to the type of work you can only convince your close friends or loved ones to see.

“This script really spoke to me because it hits close to home,” said Nerve co-founder Jenna Valyn, who co-directs with K.B. Scheiding. “This show features a performance artist and she’s always asking her friends to come see her shows and (as a company) we know exactly what that feels like. And the idea of ‘Friend Art’ is kind of funny. Is the art you’re creating really good? Or is it ‘friend art’ – art that only your friends will come to see because they have to? So, in a way, we’re poking fun at ourselves.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Lauren Everett (Molly) and A.J. Breslin (Kevin) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO.

Credit: KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Lauren Everett (Molly) and A.J. Breslin (Kevin) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO.

Credit: KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Lauren Everett (Molly) and A.J. Breslin (Kevin) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO.

Credit: KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Credit: KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

‘This is a newer work, which is so important to us’

Alvarez, a Julliard School graduate, is perhaps best known for her 2018 Netflix adaptation of Jenny Han’s bestselling novel “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” A.J. Breslin, who portrays Kevin and co-directed The Nerve’s outstanding production of “The Dream of the Burning Boy” with Valyn last fall, says Alvarez’s script fits The Nerve brand because it offers Dayton theatergoers something fresh.

“This is a newer work, which is so important to us,” said Breslin. “New shows are a big part of what keeps Dayton theater thriving. I’m always (attracted to) shows I’ve never heard of, especially within local community theater. It’s great to support big shows that come through like ‘The Book of Mormon’ or ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ but I love the thrill of discovery when seeing something new.”

Breslin also finds the play reminiscent of popular contemporary sitcoms albeit with a tougher sensibility.

“It feels like an episode of ‘Friends’ or ‘How I Met Your Mother,’” he said. “But it also falls into a category where it hits more of an R-rated edge. It has an extra dose of angst and realism, which fits The Nerve.”

“This is a comedy with depth,” Valyn echoed. “There is always more going on beneath the surface.”

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Nerve co-founder Chris Hahn, who portrays Nate and starred as grieving high school teacher Larry Morrow in the aforementioned “Dream of the Burning Boy,” enjoys Alvarez’s embrace of non-monumental character development.

“You’re seeing people grow but it isn’t happening in giant leaps,” Hahn explained. “It’s very much a slice of life.”

“Molly’s arc deals with her wanting to give up being an actress and I know so many actors who decided to quit acting and move on to more financially stable careers when COVID happened,” added Lauren Everett, who makes her Nerve debut in the role. “This play explores how heartbreaking and devastating it can be to convince yourself you’re a different person, but at the end of the day you’re an artist.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Sha-Lemar Davis (Lil) and Chris Hahn (Nate) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Credit: KNACH VIDEO + PHOTO

Sha-Lemar Davis (Lil) and Chris Hahn (Nate) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Credit: KNACH VIDEO + PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Sha-Lemar Davis (Lil) and Chris Hahn (Nate) in The Nerve's production of "Friend Art." PHOTO BY KNACK VIDEO + PHOTO

Credit: KNACH VIDEO + PHOTO

Credit: KNACH VIDEO + PHOTO

‘A visualization of human emotion’

When the time comes for Lil to showcase her performance artist skills, audiences can expect an abstract, non-literal interpretation featuring a snake puppet.

“There’s singing, dancing, dramatics and props,” said Sha-Lemar Davis, who makes her Nerve debut as Lil. “My purpose is definitely to do the exact opposite of what you think should have been done. I’m conveying the role honestly.”

In her research, Davis said she was moved and inspired by the 2012 documentary chronicling Marina Abramović's 2010 performance at New York’s Museum of Modern Art entitled “The Artist Is Present.” For nearly three months, Abramović was seated at a table across from an empty chair and she waited for people to sit with her and maintain eye contact.

“To be a performance artist feels like a visualization of human emotion,” Davis said. “It’s all about trying to communicate. For me, the most important part is really knowing what Lil wants to say in her performance pieces. Even though her pieces are supposed to be silly and funny, for Lil, regardless of what someone else is going to think of them, her pieces are very genuine.”

HOW TO GO

What: “Friend Art”

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

When: May 19-29; 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $22

Tickets: Visit daytonlive.org

FYI: “Friend Art” is performed in 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission. Patrons are reminded the play contains strong language and portrayals of drug use.

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