Would you pay $10 to sit in a bar and watch two guys hold a debate over who deserves to be with a woman they both love?
David Lee Nelson, a College of Charleston alum who regularly brings his one-man acts to Piccolo Spoleto (you might remember him from The Elephant In My Closet or David Lee Nelson … Status Update), has moved back to town and is bringing a production of playwright Mat Smart’s experimental play The Debate Over Courtney O’Connell of Columbus, Nebraska to Boone’s Bar. Seriously, they’re staging it in the bar. You’re encouraged to drink while it’s happening.
Here’s the premise, according to a press release from Nelson:
What happens when your first love becomes engaged to someone else? Do you cry? Do you get drunk? Or do you find a bar and challenge her fiance to a public debate? In Columbus, Neb., you have the right to do all three.
The Morgan Morality Act of 1894 states that if a couple has consensual, virginal intercourse, and the woman becomes engaged to another man, the original man has the right to challenge the fiance to a public debate. In a last-ditch effort to win back his ex-girlfriend, who has just become engaged to a millionaire from California, Scott “Scooner” Hooner decides to call this little-known law into effect.
Intrigued? So are we.
The Debate opens at Boone’s Bar on Mon. Feb. 17, 2014, and runs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. through March 4. Tickets will be on sale starting Jan. 17 via Brown Paper Tickets, or you can pay at the door.
The play, directed by Nelson’s frequent collaborator Adam Knight, will feature Nelson as Scooner, Paul Rolfes (Homeland, Eastbound and Down) as the wealthy fiance James, and Becca Anderson (currently starring in Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche) as Courtney O’Connell.
We caught up with Nelson to get the scoop on what might prove to be Charleston’s great oddball play of 2014.
City Paper: Have you seen this play performed before?
David Lee Nelson: I’ve seen it done in New York, and it’s one of these shows that is immersive. It’s audience-interactive. Personally, I don’t really love audience-interactive theater. I think of, like, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding or something like that. But I was watching this play, and I knew Mat [Smart, the playwright], and it just — it’s not like they’re walking around in the audience, but it was just the most wonderful, funny, and moving show. I’ll tell you, at the end of the play, Courtney can’t decide who she’s going to end up with, so the audience votes. You know, I was so wrapped up in it, and people were fighting, and the audience members were cheering whenever anyone got a vote, and it was just a really exciting evening of theater.
CP: The Morgan Morality Act of 1894: Is that a real thing, or is it just loosely based on weird, antiquated laws?
DLN: No, no — Mat is a really ingenious writer, I think. It’s all fictitious. It’s such a great premise … I really think when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be one of the playwrights from our generation who people talk about for a long time.
CP: What do you like about this premise? Why do you think it works?
DLN: I think it works because I think we’ve all been there, you know, having people we dated, and they move on or are with someone else. And they dated for like two months, James and Courtney. You know, we’ve all been there, that gut-wrenching feeling of seeing your ex moving on and being happy. You know, I could really relate to that, and then honestly just the creativity of it. I love those old laws that are on the books, these stupid old laws, I think they’re so interesting, and then to have a guy who’s so desperate that he finds this law, or maybe he heard about it in school, and this is the only way that I can get her back. It’s my last option. The thing I love about this show and reading it, it’s so funny, but then at the end, one guy is gonna get their heart broken. And it would be so easy for Mat to have written my character really sympathetic and then James the fiancé as some asshole, but the thing is, James is not an asshole. He’s just a guy from California who got a job in Nebraska, he was lonely, and he just happened to meet the love of his life. That was what blew me away when I saw the play. It’s like, either way, it’s a shitty deal for someone. That’s what life — not that life is a shitty deal, but if you end up with one person, that means there are other people who aren’t with you, and chances are you’ve had more than one person in your life who you’ve loved and you’ve cared about.