By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In the Under Thunderloo was a great time, but once it was over, Nodler was thrown back into the wasteland of his early twenties, not really knowing what to do with himself and his talent. He had dreams, which he talked over with Cooper. She encouraged him like good friends always do. They talked about opening a theater across the street from Catal Hüyük. Nodler and Cooper even skulked about the empty mattress factory on McKinney Street with an architect, imagining a theater in the space. But they were dead broke, and the architect was merely a friend's dad.
For a while Nodler booked bands at Catal Hüyük, where he also lived upstairs in a damp little room with broken-out windows and nothing but a cold drizzle of yellow faucet water to bathe in. After a few months of this low-life existence, Nodler and Cooper had had enough. He went to work for Cyrano's coffeehouse; she fled to the SPCA. And they decided to mount another show -- but not in a bar.
More important was the fact that, this time, Nodler would direct. The show would be Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities. "I'd never directed anything before," says Nodler. "It was just that all those people who'd seen In the Under Thunderloo had said, 'Well, okay, but it's not theater.' So I was like, 'All right. Fuck you, then.' I'll do some real theater. We'll do the impossible play, the one people do at the end of their career. The holy grail of avant-garde theater. I've never directed. I'll direct that. I'll do it with no actors. And we'll all be really drunk!"
Inebriated though he may have been, Nodler was able to tap into his strange group of friends and burn a desire into them to do something grand. Metal sculptor Mike Scranton, whose motorized creations have scored well at the Art Car Parade, built the set, filling up the vacant middle space at Commerce Street Warehouse with an enormous iron jungle city. "There was a two-ton staircase that went from the center of the room to nowhere," says Nodler. "And every night, after the show, a band would play, just for us. Sometimes two bands played, sometimes three. And we always had a keg."
Whether the show was artistically successful was almost beside the point. What was important was that the show solidified Nodler's resolve to make theater on a consistent basis. In fact, it was from this show that the company gleaned its name. A line from the Brecht script reads: "In my dreams I'll call him my Infernal Bridegroom." Infernal Bridegroom Productions was officially born.
Cooper says Nodler has always been a leader, even in high school, when they both attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Bob Singleton, the head of the theater department at HSPVA, agrees. "Jason always had eyes that seemed very, very deep," he says. "He was always taking things in, sucking up the world. He was always questioning ... and he was an excellent leader with the students, always putting together shows. I'm not at all surprised to see those early seeds flowering."
As paternal as he can be -- and he really does gaze at his company members with what looks an awful lot like fatherly pride -- Nodler is also full of bad-boy brazenness. In the beginning, he went around thumbing his nose at the local theater establishment. "Back in the early days I said things I wish I hadn't," he says. In fact, he'd still like to "hire someone who will follow me around just to tell me to shut the fuck up."
Yet it's precisely that dance-with-the-devil, wicked internal blaze that keeps Nodler producing plays that saner theaters wouldn't touch. Besides Brecht's "impossible" Jungle, Nodler and his group have produced more than 25 famously difficult plays, including Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Jean Genet's The Balcony, Beckett's Endgame and Maria Irene Fornes's Mud -- all strange, challenging and deeply intellectual scripts that IBP seems to understand implicitly.
This understanding might have something to do with the company's eclectic makeup. The constantly mutating troupe has included everybody from erudite Ph.D.'s, such as Charlie Scott, who plays the mayor in Fucking A, to skate punk rockers, such as Tony Barilla, the guy with the spiky, flamingo-pink hair who assists Nodler in IBP's office (and writes critically acclaimed music in his off time).
The glaring lack of theatrical training is by design. Back in the old days Nodler decided to realize his raw-bone aesthetic by employing one simple method: "No actors." Cooper remembers when they were casting Mud. "One of the characters was this mildly deranged pig-fucker," she says. "So we cast this guy who basically -- well, we don't know about the pig part -- but he fit the profile. Jason's like, 'This guy'd be great! He's just like the character!' "
Over the years, Nodler has loosened a little on his position about actors, but not much. "The problem with actors is that they are all so ... actory, kind of laminated....I came across Picasso's definition of art, 'Art is telling a lie to tell the truth' ... which is especially appropriate to theater. Theater's not pretending to tell the truth....You have to say you're acting. That's the truth. Actors tell you a lie in order to get you to another place."