By ANTHONY DEL VALLE
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
When Nevada Conservatory Theatre Master of Fine Arts candidate Elizabeth Leavitt’s “Whales, Save Us!” begins, we see a film clip of a guru named Alvin. Dressed in a pony tail, beads and a white martial arts jacket, he’s encouraging us, infomercial-style, to open our lives to “trust.” In a pod of whales, trust leads to communication which leads to working together and happiness.
In the hands of actor Taylor Hanes — who may have never before given such a relaxed performance — Alvin is a half-mad, desperate entrepreneur beginning to fade from the national spotlight. We’re in a rehab center on the whale-infested shores of British Columbia. Esme (Melody Wilson) is a has-been Hollywood star, Zuzu (Lisa Fischel) a former rodeo queen who’s grown bitter, and Del (Eddie Mullaney) a weak-willed man who can’t stop apologizing for everything everyone else does.
Most of the people at the clinic have more on their mind than we first realize. Leavitt is one humorously restless playwright. She barely introduces a complication when she squeezes in another and takes us down a different path. Her title comes from a serious plea Alvin makes at the end of the first act, when he screams out to the waters for the kind of help he feels only whales can give the human race. He forgets, unfortunately, that he’s dealing with KILLER whales.
Leavitt has some themes on her mind, but her dialogue is light-hearted. She goes on a bit long, and at times her points are too obvious. But her frolicsome tone makes up for much of that.
Director Josh Penzell keeps things moving smoothly. He establishes a frantic undertow that never lets up. And he elicits excellent performances from a top-notch cast. Hanes’ eyes project a gleam of madness that keeps him constantly off-kilter. You never quite trust him.
Mullaney has proven himself a versatile actor, and here, projects at least two diverse characters: the apologetic weakling and — well, I really shouldn’t give away his Mr. Hyde side. But let’s just say he infuses it with a different soul.
Wilson makes for the kind of frothy, self-absorbed Hollywood type that you love to hate.
There’s not enough bite to this script to make you love it, but I sure liked it. Leavitt’s writing world seems to inhabit a different planet than the rest of us.
What: “Whales, Save Us!”
When: 8 p.m. today; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Black Box Theatre, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $15 (895-2787)