Ten wayward people walk into an acting class, including a married couple who finds their relationship growing stale, a single mother who worries she’s not good enough and a man convinced he needs to be more assertive at work. In the class, a man named John Smith promises to draw out who each person really is, allowing them to reinvent themselves in the realm of make-believe so they can reshape their realities outside the classroom.
It’s this straightforward catalyst that launches Nick Drnaso’s mesmerizing graphic novel (after Sabrina, a finalist for the Booker Prize). But Acting Class is interested in more than just following a set of characters as they gain a new lease on life. Through clean, minimalist linework, Drnaso builds a world we think we understand. Then, slowly and methodically, he breaks it all down—and with it, our understanding of the human condition.
Certain imagery in Acting Class conjures up the poseable nature of toys, such as vignettes framed in cutesy, brightly colored storybook motifs, or doll heads surrounding a character’s portrait. As the students work to apply Smith’s teachings to their lives, Drnaso visually and narratively blurs the line between fantasy and fiction. Party “scenes” in the class become actual parties, with scope and dimension to match. In the same way, the characters begin to feel the class’ sense of play and fun blending with their own real-world desires, needs and insecurities. Exercises and experiments become charged with emotion, and make-believe becomes shockingly real.
As Drnaso interrogates the ways in which we pretend, pose and allow ourselves to be the playthings of others and society at large—whether we want to admit it or not—Acting Class becomes a stirring, incisive exploration of human nature.