Sexual innuendo is high as Las Vegas Little Theatre presents its 2014 New Works Competition Winner “Little Black Book” by Thomas J. Misuraca in their Fischer Black Box. In its firstever production, the show is a keenly hilarious, often bawdy, dramedy.
Dashing actor Justin unexpectedly has met his demise in Los Angeles, and his grieving mother Mrs. Ross has arrived from Chicago to plan his services. She enlists the help of his loyal best friend Robert, and unbeknownst to him, invites some of his other friends to attend. She has gotten hold of Justin’s address book, his “little black book,” and given people a ring, but they didn’t all know him in a conventional way. As Robert discovers through a series of unpleasantries, Justin apparently was gay.
With Justin’s boyfriend Bruce, his girlfriend April, and a one-night stand named Seth arriving at the funeral home and awkwardly discovering Justin’s secret life, Robert struggles to hide the truth from Mrs. Ross, not wanting to shatter illusions she might have of her boy. From this precedent and morbid circumstance, friendships are forged and comedy commences. Verging on farce, the show is full of witty double entendres, irony and misunderstandings, surprises and revelations.
Solidly directed by David Ament with a light touch, the show has a pleasant, even pace. Wisely avoiding stereotype, he keeps things grounded and mostly downplayed. But while there are little conflicts scattered throughout the drama, there is an overall lack of tension and build and a lack of dramatic arc. Thus, the transformative, cathartic power of psychological trauma and the mini transformation each character experiences is diluted slightly.
With timelines sometimes confusing, an arc that’s a bit delicate, logistics of never seen offstage characters muddled, and relationships between characters that at times feel abrupt and contrived, Misuraca’s script could use some fine-tuning. But it’s a fun and fascinating journey through the grief and disbelief of a few at the dishonesty of one narcissistic man.
The cast shares an easy rapport. Tommy Watanabe is hysterically funny as the self-described “bitter gay geek” hookup Seth, and he shines as he spits catty arrows at most everyone in self-defense while maintaining a refreshing realism without slipping into stereotype.
As the stoic best friend Robert, Landon Beatty wears a subtle grief on his sleeve and carries it with him throughout the show. His is a nicely quiet, inward performance, but at times it feels like he is holding back. More outward variation in emotion would give him more depth.
April Sauline is the unwitting flamedame April, likably spunky as she comes to terms with being deceived. And as boytoy Bruce, Blaine Alexander wisely downplays his studliness in order to present a secretly sensitive guy, but he is often tentative in delivery and difficult to hear.
Mary Alice Brunod Burack stylistically plays the ditzy Mrs. Ross on a completely different level from her fellow actors. She plays rather big, and while this works in the sense that it illuminates generational differences and her own naivete, and she is expressive and emotional, it often feels like she is talking at others rather than with them.
Production elements, with set construction by Bryan McLeod, costumes by Lee Ludwig Meyers and lighting and sound design by Jonathan Pillen, are simple and spare.
“Little Black Book” is enjoyable though blatantly bawdy, and as many comedies do, it begins with a funeral and ends with a few happy surprises.