by Mike Poblete · August 23, 2015
"After my mother tied me up, I would focus on what was in front of me." From the first line of Jean-Daniel Noland's Knots, I knew I was in for something different. Our nameless protagonist laments to a psychiatrist that after his father passed, his mother became obsessed with knots of all kinds, from the useful to the decorative. It was an attempt to bind what she loved, never to leave her grasp again. As a result our man, who cannot tie knots himself, weaves complex and nerdly fascinating stories of bondage; ranging from maniacal nautical knots to Vishnu's symbolic knots of ascension to iridescent ants that weave underground plant threads. His passion meets its match in a waitress who decorates herself in fashionable knots, and soon she invites him home to "untie" her.
Yet there is a compulsive danger to their romance: like his mother, the man spins his tales to tie her to him, while she loves elaborate knots simply for the pleasure of untying them. The conflict, and her eerie parallels to his mother (both women are played by Lucy Lavely), lead the man to consider the anticipated knot to fulfill Chekhov’s Gun Syndrome, "the knot that ties you to no one but yourself."
Noland's wordmanship is at times hypnotic, the verbal acrobatics interlacing themes can be perplexing and gorgeous. Marc Le Vasseur, an Off-Broadway staple, is a wonderfully anxious man, who delivers rapid, historically detailed stories in a flurry whose passion becomes contagious. Director Adam LeGrant also deserves credit for clearly transitioning overlapping scenes and creating a sensual ambience for a bondage themed story: there is a scene where the man removes the red thread tied around the waitress’ legs, a very sexy moment conveyed without removing any actual clothing. However, Noland’s characters lack development: only the waitress seems changed at the end, and even then somewhat superficially. The psychiatrist in particular feels contrived, existing solely as a soundboard for the man, except for one confusing and unexplained scene where he interacts with the man’s mother. I was disappointed that this unusual script, with so much energy and passion, doesn’t progress beyond the captivating circular diatribes of its lead, yet captivating they are, and with a fifty-minute running time there is a lot here for a FringeNYC fan seeking a short, geekily seductive play.