There are few upbeat moments in the Immediate Theatre Project’s riveting one-man drama Burden. This haunting production follows a despondent and drifting young blogger/journalist in search of a career-making story about corruption. He finds it, but there are dire and unexpected consequences. The show runs through Sunday, May 20, at North Carolina Stage Company.
Willie Repoley stars as the blogger JB, and he also co-wrote the world premiere piece with director Ron Bashford. Together, they have crafted an intense character study — and this character is going off the rails in a bad way.
JB fled his hometown of New Orleans, just before Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city. He’s in no hurry to return, though he left behind a girlfriend and seems desperate to keep those connections open. Now he’s in Portland, Ore., trying to establish himself as a writer for a local progressive blog.
JB wants to report on gentrification and how big business is wiping out the the little guys. His targets are developers and city leaders. This part of the tale hits close to home in Asheville, where development has wiped out older buildings on Pack Square and especially down in the Market and Eagle streets area where there was once a lively African-American community.
But JB knows nothing really about Portland and maybe not much about reporting. His passion gets in the way of common sense. Meanwhile, he has no personal life other than trying to phone his long-time former girlfriend, Ann. Other than his story, she’s about all that he has. But the relationship is just an illusion, because she won’t take his calls. JB is cracking under the the loss of that relationship and has no way to fix the issue.
There are many strong moments in Burden. One comes when a young JB plays hide-and-seek, but finds himself alone in the forest. It’s a memory that haunts him years later. In another powerhouse scene, JB finally connects with Ann, but it is clear that this relationship is over — if it ever really existed at all. And, when JB learns what his careless reporting has done, Repoley turns up the acting energy as the character tries to undo the damage.
Repoley gives a remarkable, high-energy performance as JB. (We only meet the play’s other characters through the actor’s one-sided conversations with them.) There is an enormous amount of dialogue, and Repoley delivers it all without missing a beat.
Midway through Burden, there’s a long, semiautobiographical fable that JB has written about a young prince. It’s a complicated, surreal sequence, and the narrative gets bogged down before it reconnects to the real drama.
The story plays out on a sparse stage with few props and colorful walls that indicate a sense of turmoil and recklessness. Another important element is the effective use of lighting, created by Jason Williams, to convey emotion.
The play is performed without intermission, which serves to heighten the tension. Burden is experimental and edgy, but it’s also engaging theater.
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane, ncstage.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, May 20. Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. $16-34