This past weekend, Stanford Theater Lab produced the existential and unorthodox “Gnit,” by Will Eno, in the courtyard between Branner and Toyon Hall. At times depressing and always absurd, this witty play follows the life of Peter Gnit, an idiosyncratic narcissist on a quest for life-meaning. Gnit emerges as a pathetic antihero, neglecting to care for his mother, breaking up a wedding, and abandoning multiple lovers as he searches for “something more.” The expedition showcases the absurdity, comedy and cruelty of the human mind.
Peter Gnit (Carlos Fresnillo ‘19) commands the stage with both hubris and humor in his endless interactions with family, lovers, grave diggers, and drunks. Though his interlocutors vary, Gnit does not, unable to abandon his stubbornness or demonstrate any measurable change. In this sense, the play is infuriating. The narrative feels exhaustive rather than generative. Time and again, we watch the selfish Gnit trample over the powerless, needy, and poor. We want to see growth, redemption, or remorse, but this is too conventional, too cliché for Eno’s masterful script. The play’s strength lies in the truth that some people cannot change. Some people are forever blinded by ego. Some stories resist neat endings. Some stories don’t end at all. What the play lacks in convention, it compensates in truth. We have all met someone like Peter Gnit. We all hate that guy. But Eno toys with our emotions, knowing we’re still rooting for him to change.
“Gnit” delivers with sustained and varied comedy for the entirety of its two hour run time. Physical (and once again, absurd) humor, like the appearance of a mysterious onion or a broken door, balances effectively with a clever and pun-riddled script. Minh-Anh Day ‘20, the show’s director, dazzles with his performances as “Town” and “The Green Family,” juggling multiple personalities simultaneously. The effect of his soft musings interrupted by loud threats is jarring and comedic. His characters act as microcosms for the play – multiplicitous in tone, varied in register. Nancy Chang ‘20 also impresses with her performances as Solvay, the one lover that seems to stick in Gnit’s mind.
Through the play’s fragmented narrative, undecipherable internal logic, and unnerving sense of humor, Gnit offers us something we rarely see from theater on campus. We are immersed in a world that is unrecognizable, but eerily familiar. Eno’s playful and unusual language surprises and alienates us. Absurd characters and awkward interactions appear far-flung, yet utterly relatable. But perhaps its greatest gift is the play’s implicit call to action. As Peter Gnit repeats the same mistakes, and the characters in the play grow older and older, as some die and other lose their eyesight, the play cultivates an uncomfortable yet important sense of urgency. Now is the time to examine and change our ways. Now is the time to disrupt the harmful cycles in our lives. The show’s form works hand in hand with this message. The unfamiliar wordplay, structure, and humor jolt us out of our usual theatrical conventions. “Gnit” is an intervention, disrupting moral and mind.
Contact Alessandro R.L. Hall at ahall2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.