Human absurdity in 'Line' still resonates after 35 years

Israel Horovitz’s 1967 play “Line” is as timely now as it was then. Perhaps more so, because it’s not about waiting. It’s about being first. First in anything.

“Line” was the inaugural production of Cockroach Theatre. This time, in conjunction with Nevada Conservatory Theatre to celebrate the 10th anniversary seasons of both, it is again presented at just the right moment.

The play has been categorized as “absurdist comedy” but it delivers the reality of human behavior. And, absurd we are. For proof all we need do is observe the upcoming holiday gift-buying season with lines of people camping out, rioting, mauling and trampling one another.

Here, each movement is more chaotic than the previous as the characters use all manner of things to get ahead: diversion, sex, trickery, pushing, near riot, mock camaraderie; all to claim the top spot. To be the top dog. Though Horovitz limits the line to five people, the competition is fierce and riotous, and funny.

What makes this production, helmed by director Will Adamson, so difficult to review is that it’s so darn good. He moves the play along at a rapid pace and with such precise timing it hits every note and nuance with perfect pitch. It winds us up, lets us catch our breath, and then winds us tighter all the way to the hilarious finale.

As the play opens we find Fleming (Stephon Pettway) waking up after camping out all night so he could be first in line for tickets to a baseball game—or so we believe. Pettway has us laughing before he utters a single line and continues to deliver the goods.

In comes Stephen (Paul Neal) who is a Mozart fanatic. Perhaps they’re in line for a concert. Next come Molly (Stephanie Resnick) a housewife, Dolan (Glenn Heath) a businessman, and Arnall (Jordan Fenn) Molly’s husband, in that order. Now we’re not sure what the line is for. But it really doesn’t matter, it’s one’s position in that line that counts.

The acting is so excellent, the characters so well developed, it’s impossible to single out any one cast member. With each brusque positioning of his stool and newspaper, Glenn Heath delivers a man with obvious intent in every word and action. Resnick uses her feminine wiles to perfection, and when she reveals it was all a ruse, we’re as taken aback as the men she’s duped. Neal brings a level of crazy energy from the moment he walks in and begins to sing the contents of his wallet to pass the time, and builds it to an explosion of comedy. Fenn, younger than the play calls for, embodies the character so completely we never doubt his sincerity as he witnesses the sexcapades of his wife with the other men.

Every production value is top-notch. Even the set — a simple wide, white line of tape on the floor and strings of lights across the back — uses the three-quarter thrust staging in the UNLV Black Box to excellent effect. Lights, costumes, props, and sound add to the overall enjoyment.

It’s important to note the production will move to the Art Square Theatre on Thursday to complete its run.

I suggest you get your tickets now — before the line forms!