'Way It Has to Be' full of misery

The moment Nevada Conservatory's Master of Fine Arts candidate Jeremiah Munsey's "The Way It Has to Be" begins, we are in the world of soap opera.

People explain and re-explain their family troubles mostly around a kitchen-table -- we used to call this sort of thing "kitchen drama" -- and every time one problem seems dealt with, another one arises.

There's no subtext. The characters always know exactly what they're feeling, and you frequently wish a fire alarm would go off to get the actors to stop whining.

The sad plot involves a 29-year-old West Virginia drug dealer who's been killed; his neurotic mother who can't stop making and remaking the bed; his domineering older sister who runs the household like boot camp; his brother who dreams of getting up and out; his long-lost sister who has a sordid past but has finally come home to mama; and a young, neighboring friend who needs to learn to stand up for himself and get out from under the family's web.

I can't recall a single joke. These people take their anxieties very seriously. Theatre is supposed to make you want to share another person's view of the world, but I kept thinking, "Hey, look, I got my own troubles, leave me alone."

Director Kenn McLeod demonstrates little ability in finding the humanity in misery. These aren't people. They're character traits.

Two on-target performances take you by surprise. Thomas Tobin, as the frustrated, ill-tempered son who gets into drug dealing so he can get away from the clutches of his family, is able to suggest the volcanic anger that threatens his sanity. And Robert Burgess as the young neighbor turns likably weak to likably strong as he slowly learns to assert himself. He comes off, at first, as a naive boy, but winds up proving himself the strongest of the bunch.

You can sense a lot of Tennessee Williams and William Inge in this script, and maybe that's because the student-author is still imitating his role models. My guess would be that Munsey should put aside this play and get working on the next one. He has a voice, but he needs to keep writing until he finds out what drama is.

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.