A husband and wife, four years into their marriage and simmering in boredom. A single mother, her young son showing disturbing signs of mental instability. A peculiar woman with few if any friends and only her menial job keeping her grounded. A figure model, comfortable in his body and ready for a creative challenge. A worried grandmother and her adult granddaughter; a hulking laborer and gym nut; a physical therapist; an ex-con.
With thrumming unease, the class sinks deeper into their lessons as the process demands increasing devotion. When the line between real life and imagination begins to blur, the group's deepest fears and desires are laid bare.
The atmosphere of boredom, longing and the desire for something greater has only become more pronounced ... With their mild manners and dialogue of bland pleasantries...frequently hiding uglier perversities, they seem almost like robotic caricatures of small-town Midwesterners by way of David Lynch. This impression is highlighted by Drnaso's style, which emphasizes flatly inexpressive features and hauntingly empty landscapes ... It's possible that Acting Class relies almost too much on its inarguably surprising and disturbing reveal to cap things off. But his careful building of suspense and overpoweringly eerie mood makes the long build worthwhile well before the final and powerfully cinematic twist.
My stomach lurched a bit when I picked up Acting Class, Drnaso’s first full-length outing since Sabrina. Is it as wildly successful as its predecessor? In truth, I’m not sure that it is. But my queasiness was hardly misplaced. In this book, Drnaso again distills quite brilliantly aspects of 21st-century anomie and alienation ... Acting Class isn’t an easy read. Drnaso’s blank, Playmobil-ish faces are hard to tell apart; I sometimes struggled to work out which character was which. The way he presents the class’s improvisations as reality on the page can also be, to put it mildly, extremely confusing.
... a tender and disturbing glance into average Americans’ modern and ever-drifting life. Drnaso displays his understanding of a specific type of human psyche – scarred by the wards of the past and held down by the ennui of the present ... Drnaso’s style is straightforward, each panel presents information via delicate details and sparse mise en scènes. Unlike many of his peers, he hides nothing behind flashy artistic flourishes, ultra-violent imagery, or derelict prose ... Drnaso can draw more elaborate illustrations, yet he prefers to have few lines in his panels, and every line counts. Drnaso is also a very good writer ... his ability to conjure complex thoughts and rivet and drive the story with a few lines of dialogue is mesmerizing. Words and pictures complement each page like a pianist and singer creating one song. Nothing is wasted. With this third graphic novel, Drnaso has developed an oeuvre and aesthetic that is all his own and instantly recognizable ... Drnaso makes excellent use of the graphic novel as a medium by depicting the real and the imagined as states of reality just a panel away ... There are many parts of the book that left me bewildered, and that’s okay, if albeit a little distressing. Like many, I don’t fully understand our current tumultuous cultural-political moment. Acting Class is a rapturous critique of our moment, and fittingly it offers no answers – there isn’t even a semblance of a gratifying closure. A mark of a meaningful venture is how many questions it leaves upon its completion. There should be many questions at the end of a class, book, or journey. I closed Acting Class’ cover, stared at it, and realized that an abyss was looking back at me. It felt eerily comforting.