Jan 24, 2005

Royal Nonesuch

Whoever you are, wherever you've been
You've come this far
Well, come on in
See the nonesuch

—From "The Royal Nonesuch," Big River

What's a nonesuch? It's not a word you hear much these days, except in the context of the ultra-classy Nonesuch Records. And yet there it was, in today's Times, in a review of Ethel Merman's Broadway:

From her legendary 1930 debut in the Gershwins' "Girl Crazy," throughout her remarkable career, the singing stenographer born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann was a nonesuch.

And there it was in December, in a review of Peace Squad Goes '99:

The annual discount-minded holiday revelry by subversive nonesuch Ken Roht and his Orphean Circus zanies has the joyous abandon of an MTV love-in from Oz.

And in a review last March of A Night With Dame Edna:

That the actual existence (and femininity) of this nonesuch is never in doubt bespeaks the seamless mastery of the man behind the maven, Barry Humphries.

Oh, and in an August, 2003 review of Ennio:

The late Martha Graham once said, "The unique must be fulfilled," which may well make Ennio Marchetto the most satisfied nonesuch on the planet.

I think you'll gather from the context that a "nonesuch" is a one-of-a-kind, sui generis, without-equal thing or person. And you may also have guessed that these reviews are all the work of one tireless critic—in this case, David C. Nichols.

In the interest of fairness, I've done a little snooping around my own theatre reviews for similar tics—it turns out that I tend to overuse the words "disarming," "convincing," and "persuasive," which I find telling about the defenses I must bring with me into the theatre. Nevertheless, apart from the considered use of the word "epistemological" (in a review of Miss Margarida's Way, in which the word "persuasive" also reared its head) and one employment of the term "atavistic" (for Among the Thugs—I think "convincing" is in that one), I haven't had quite the vocabulary-expanding zeal of Nichols' densely packed and often sparkling reviews.

Indeed, apart from Back Stage West's laconic Wenzel Jones, Nichols is the only critic in town whose reviews I can recognize from the first sentence as his, without checking the byline. Honing a distinctive critical voice is not an achievement to sneeze at—it's enough, in fact, to make Nichols himself something of a local critical nonesuch.

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