I was ready to run away after the first act of Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio's "Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille." But then the second reached a fine, lunatic pitch and I was glad I braved the storm.
Bruce Graham's 1979 script gives us a group of simple small-town Pennsylvanians hanging out at a run-down watering hole. The intellectual, introspective bartender seriously ponders suicide while, unbeknownst to him, the world is literally self-destructing. Act One ends with the appearance of a mysterious stranger (no, I won't tell you who he really is). Act Two deals with the stranger's influence on world events as well as on the tortured bartender's personal crisis.
Director Bruce Graham is not generally able to handle the zany tone. The characters are exaggerated types, but nearly all the cast members comment on their roles rather than becoming them. There's a man named Crazy Willie (played by David McGee), but there's no real craziness in this Willie. McGee would have us believe he's shot at his wife, a dog, and anyone who, in his eyes, looks anti-American. Instead he comes across as an actor faking eccentricities. Just before Lani Blair as the earthly Shirley enters, we hear her overdone New York accent and rightly brace for the worst. Dawn Torkelson's wholesome Virginia character undergoes a major tragedy, but there's no difference in attitude pre-tragedy and post.
The dialogue makes us feel we've been here before. Jokes about Jewish guilt, conversations about God's attitude toward mankind, and lines like a man rejecting the offer of a Bible because "I saw the movie" are embarrassing. But when the characters all converge, at long last the plot explodes. We finally understand and appreciate the playwright and director's voyage - even though the safe sail into port bumps and lists.
Paul Cieslewicz as the stranger is the one character we totally believe in. The actor projects a no-nonsense business attitude offset by a playful twinkle in his eye. His exudes both personal warmth and professional distance. When we find out who he is, we think, "Of course. This is exactly how this person would be."
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.