Alan Ball is the reason to see "Gemini."
His role as Fran in Nevada Conservatory Theatre's production of the 1977 Albert Innaurato dramedy isn't showy. The union guest actor doesn't have any big moments that scream for attention. But he's a marvel for his ability to quietly inhabit the skin of another human being.
"Gemini" is about a small group of South Philadelphia family and friends in 1973 who fight their own flaws and each other with ferocious love and anger.
Ball portrays a middle-age, blue-collar Italian-American who, in some ways, is all things stereotypical: ill-tempered, virile, loud, proud and very much "a man's man." Yet there's a tender side that rises above the gruff edges.
Fran's troubled, 21-year-old son, Francis (Christopher Rosado), is gay, and the father - tough as it may be - wants the kid to know it's OK.
Ball delivers all the large-scale mannerisms we expect of this type of character yet establishes a rock-solid reality base.
Fran tells lots of jokes, but Ball doesn't make Fran the joke. He communicates the soul that is the source of everything the guy does. The way Ball eats, scratches his belly, smokes a cigarette - it all feels like part of who Fran is.
It would have been easy to make the character a caricature. But Ball never goes the easy route. He does his job as an actor despite the temptation to simply coast on imitation.
That's the problem I have with most of the rest of the cast. Director Michael Lugering elicits performances that let us know the actors understand how these parts should be played. But almost no one goes beyond interpretation. The East Coast-area accents, the guzzling of booze and the attempts to be nerdish often feel tacked on.
A welcome exception, in addition to Ball, is student Jordan Bondurant as Randy, an 18-year-old visiting friend who becomes aware of Francis' attraction to him.
Bondurant makes Randy the sort of well-meaning, unaffected all-American teenager with whom seemingly anyone, gay or straight, could fall in love. Bondurant exudes kindness, allowing us to understand why Randy seems to have no enemies.
Lugering establishes a beautifully energetic pace from the beginning. He knows when the production should breathe and when it should get frantic. He makes noise one of the stars - not just garbage cans and music and neighborhood sounds, but human voices. The sort of yelling typical in inner-city, tightly interwoven dwellings is made part of the play's fabric.
Molly Bailey's pleasing set - a duplex of two-story homes complete with screen doors, a backyard, power meters, mini-fences and multiple windows that allow us to glimpse the lives within - captures the spirit and fiscal challenges of the inhabitants.
It adds up to an uneven evening, but one that's a pleasurable hum of entertainment. Watch Ball closely. His performance is as perfectly scaled for the front of the house as it is to the back. He's so easy, direct and effective, I found myself wondering, "How the heck does he do it?"
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at email@example.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.