It was surprising to see a good play after over an hour of self-congratulations.
The place was the College of Southern Nevada's Nicholas Horn, where a benefit performance had brought out local politicians, performing celebrities, and philanthropists. Lots of awards were given out, and many speeches were made about the importance of the performing arts in Las Vegas. I had expected, naturally, that the nearly three-hour play that followed would be mediocre. My bad.
Ira Aldridge's Theatre Company's production of August Wilson's "Fences" (directed by Walter Mason) had a first act that ranked among the best of local shows this season. The celebrated script focuses on the relationship between a powerful, troubled garbage collector (Anthony Brady) and his sensitive, determined son (Isaiah Lucas). Brady commanded the stage with equal parts humor and threat. When he started to fall apart emotionally, you felt the tragedy and waste in his weakness. Earl Grant Harrison, as the man's best friend, was a marvel at listening to others, reacting honestly, and getting us to understand why the pair would be so close, despite their eccentricities. Harrison knows how to make the simplest action a spellbinding stage moment.
Mason's ability to help the actors bring out the relationships between their characters often was remarkable. You believed in these folks as a family unit.
The second act had serious problems with monotony, pacing and overwrought acting. It felt under rehearsed. But I don't know that I've ever seen a more spot-on first act of this difficult play.
I have a particular interest in the Ira Aldridge for the simple reason that even though I get to see over a hundred Vegas-area productions a year, I rarely run into blacks on the stage or in the audience. This isn't strictly a local problem, of course. But it seems "mainstream" theater doesn't' speak to all of us. Here's hoping the Ira Aldridge folks continue to supply a level of communication to some of our residents that they're not getting from other community theaters.
One curious point: The benefit had a pretty good turnout, but nearly the entire audience split at the first-act intermission. I can't help but wonder: Were the "celebrities" there just to get their names noted in the Good Book and in the press photos, or are they the sort who donate and run, because they really don't like theater?
Local singer Clint Holmes was one of the few attendees to show the actors and director the respect they deserved by staying till the end and he too wondered abut the massive exodus. Maybe they all had things to do early in the morning, who knows. But our city leaders should know that leaving a production at intermission is just not nice. It tells the world, "I hated this show." And this production was just not hateable.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.