Elvis Nolasco plays dozens of characters in "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."
Elvis Nolasco plays dozens of characters in "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."
One man plays nearly 30 characters in the stage adaptation of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” now playing at the Book-It Repertory Theatre through May 6.

That man is the excellent Elvis Nolasco, who plays silly, sensual and deeply saddening with aplomb in the 93-minute play. 

“Wao” tells the story of Oscar de León, an obese, socially clueless Dominican man living in New Jersey who is afraid his family has been cursed and he will die a virgin.  This curse - the fukú or fukú Americanus - is viewed by Oscar and the de León family as divine retribution for European invaders. His smooth talking friend, roommate and confidant Yunior de Las Casas narrates the novel and play, telling what happened to Oscar years after the fact. 

Yunior is a more typical Dominican man, according to author Junot Diaz. He’s good with the ladies (at least in his own mind), has rhythm and verve and frankly, doesn’t know what he wants out of life. Oscar is more driven, even if he’s less conventional.

The story veers heavily into Magical Realism, à la Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as Oscar finds life and death in the Dominican cane fields outside Santo Domingo. Beli, Oscar’s mother, is domineering and headstrong while his sister, Lola, is confident and kind. Nolasco jumps from decades and between sexes effortlessly, all while maintaining a whirlwind of Spanglish and frenetic motion. 

The play takes place in an eerily lit, sparse set in the Repertory theater basement location. Metal rods stand on end to symbolize the oppressive, mystical sugarcane fields, while a refrigerator - covered in nerd culture memorabilia and filled with Oscar’s favorite books - symbolizes Oscar’s hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. An energetic Nolasco fills the small stage with the many larger-than-life characters he places in front of you. 

The country is still run by long-time dictator Rafael Trujillo, and his strongmen and lackeys fill the countryside, harassing the locals. This isn’t good news for Oscar when he goes to visit his family during the annual summer Dominican repatriation. 

Nolasco, who has had roles in multiple Spike Lee films including Clockers and Oldboy, has also taken a major part in the ABC series American Crime. He was able to pull inspiration for “Wao’s” many characters partly from his own Dominican heritage.

See Nolasco through the weekend, as the plays run ends May 6.