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After night falls 

Thank God for Daniel Pettrow. He's like the ketchup of Atlanta theater: Put him on a hard-to-swallow show and it instantly becomes more appetizing. This was the case with the actor's recent gig in Theatre in the Square's two-man Howie the Rookie, and his performance in Tirade for Three at PushPush Theater made that horrifically dense work slightly more palatable.

Now going solo in PushPush's production of Nocturne, Pettrow's strong stage presence is again a blessing, though even his talents can't quite redeem playwright Adam Rapp's rambling text.

In language that's playful and frequently airtight, the nameless narrator divulges his life's central tragedy: He killed his 9-year-old sister in an automobile accident. Recalling the event 15 years later, the grief-stricken adult returns to his 17-year-old self and reveals how he ran down the girl while their mother watched.

Pettrow delivers the monologue with torpedo bursts of emotion, the stage sometimes humming with his energy. And Rapp certainly knows how to set a scene and create a vivid portrait of sticky suburban ennui.

The playwright, who has three novels to his credit, keeps the tone overtly literary from the start, and in the second half, the narrator reinvents himself as a tortured writer living in New York. Yet, Nocturne eventually suffers from its literary stuffiness; it's a stage work that might fare better as a short story. The show can come off like eavesdropping on an uncomfortable (and often unrewarding) therapy session.

Director Tim Habeger complicates matters with a couple of odd choices, such as having the narrator's actions conflict with his words and adding in an obtrusive prop in the second act. But for the most part, Pettrow keeps the ship on course.

This fall, the theater will inaugurate a new space with a festival of Rapp's shows. If Nocturne is an appetizer for a broader spread of the much-acclaimed playwright's work, let's hope that buffet comes with condiments.


PushPush Theater stages Nocturne in repertory with War Plays through June 7. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. $12-$16. 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. 404-892-7876. www.pushpushtheater.com.

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