Those of us who have been lucky enough to have seen good productions of Eugene O'Neill's 1933 "Ah, Wilderness!" likely know what a fine script this is.
It's our greatest American playwright's only comedy, and it proves that the master of mourning also knew from funny.
But director Doug Baker, in the College of Southern Nevada's current production, smothers the life out of this lively, light-hearted piece.
Simple reason why: He comments on the wholesomeness of the plot so strongly that everything is reduced to cornball.
O'Neill's tale seems to be a re-enactment of his teen years as he wishes they were. (Suicide, drug addiction, illness and alcoholism plagued his time on this planet, but you'd never know that from this.)
Our hero (with the appropriately nice name of Richard Miller) is in the throes of first love.
Poor guy is so confused - and so determined to be honorable, despite the call of his hormones - that he practically goes mad (well, in a "normal" sort of way).
His family is as loving and supportive as most of us can only fantasize about. And the dialogue is full of amusing turns of phrases that I suspect was hip talk in the early 1900s.
But Baker doesn't allow the material to seduce us. He's too interested in letting us know how quaint this all is, how silly.
At one point, for example, he actually has the boy swoon with his hand over his brow, as if he were a tragedienne from a silent movie.
Baker's worst fault as a director is that he often feels the need to force-feed us his thoughts on a script.
O'Neill doesn't need Baker CliffsNotes.
The actors, from what I can tell from the program notes, are mostly novices, and it's obvious; but that doesn't explain away why they have been directed with such self-mocking broadness.
J.J. Gatesman, as Richard, suggests the innocence of his character and may well have the acting chops to portray the role if he had some help. Caitlin Shea as the bad good-time girl Belle has a charming, strong presence. And Gary Carton's front-yard setting gives us the ambiance of a small town, warm-hearted household.
You can feel the lemonade.
This production, though, had me wondering what the folks at CSN theater see as their mission. Do they cast anyone from the community with the intent of doing the best production possible?
Or do they exist to allow novice acting students a chance to gain experience?
If the answer is the latter, I think they should lower their admission price, bill the plays as training workshops, and warn the general public to stay away.
I can't imagine this show pleasing anyone who isn't family of a cast member.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.