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Fringe festival’s 11 productions range from ingenious to slight

There are productions at Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Second Annual Vegas Fringe Festival that stand on their own. But by taking the plunge and seeing all 11 shows, you gain a look at the wide scope of local talent.

Here are some brief critiques in order of preference:

"The Wind in the Willows" — Endless Productions’ fantasy, under Timothy Burris’ direction, is a light-hearted, ingeniously staged four-author adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic. Burris’ set feels like a Sunday paper’s worth of comic strips, with cartoonlike physical objects, both deliciously oversized and overcolored. The plot — focusing on the adventures of four anthropomorphized animal characters — gives Drew Yonemori a chance to expertly bury himself in a subdued portrayal of the hilariously reserved Moley. And Samuel Craner’s mischievous Toady is rich in comic magic. Grade: A

"The Blue Hour" — You don’t ordinarily think of David Mamet’s plays as "sweet," but Atlas Productions director Judith Kalaora has helped transform him into a gentle storyteller. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this tale of modern-day disconnection is the director and actors’ ability to make Mamet’s unique cadence sound natural. Rick Ginn’s an entertainingly, authoritative narrator, Andrew Eddins an amusingly confused amateur philosopher, and Sean Cancellieri an alternately sketch-comedy perfect foil and a frighteningly real villain. He initiates a horrific rape scene that is only suggested, but is made terrifying by his quiet, intense aggression. The lighting, though, overstates the show’s themes and makes the stage tough to look at. Grade: A

"Casa de Nada" — Found Door Theatre playwright and director Erica Griffin gives us a group of quirky, homeless people. The direction elicits a stop-the-show performance by Sue McNulty, as the bellowing queen mother of the streets. Grade: B+

"Love Stories During the Armageddon of a Citrus Fruit" — Daniel Hamilton’s play has two men living peacefully inside a world-size orange until their idyllic existence is threatened by the atomic age. In Chaos Theatre’s production, directed by Amanda Kraft, young, likable identical twins Jason and Jeremy Nino skillfully set them apart by physical posture. Garry Lunn’s scientist is a welcome contrast due to Lunn’s crisp, clipped diction. A breathtaking special effect involving a tree seems to come out of nowhere. The final third, though, is directed with too heavy a hand. Grade: B

"Home Free" — Olde English Productions’ mounting of Lanford Wilson’s drama (under Gus Langley’s direction) is especially worth catching for Shane Cullum’s performance as a man caught up in imaginary situations and people. Cullum expertly internalizes his character’s madness. Grade: B-

"Sing to Me Through Open Windows" — There’s a great divide in Butcher Blocks Productions’ mounting of Arthur Kopit’s play. Directors and designers Shawn Hackler and Cynthia Vodovoz have done marvels in bringing this absurd drama to life. But they haven’t paid enough attention to the text. There’s an aging male magician, a boy and a clown, all of whom have high-stakes inter-relationships. We never learn, though, what those stakes are. The magician is played by a young woman in pathetically mediocre makeup, and that destroys the sense of male camaraderie inherent in the situation. But David Surratt, as the clown, seems able to project every thought that pops into his head. The set is a minimalist treat, and you’d never guess that the powerful lighting was created by a master board shared with other companies. Grade: C+

"I Am Not Batman" — The best part of Lil Flo Productions’ take on author Marco Ramirez’s riff on superhero deconstructions is the drumming that accompanies an unfelt monologue. Worst part? For 12 bucks, you’re getting a 15-minute show. Grade: D-

"Ruby of Elsinore" — Las Vegas Little Theatre’s contribution is Bruce Kane’s modern-day spoof of "Hamlet" that takes place in a hair salon. Directors Deven Ceriotti and Barbara King overstate the characters and lame jokes. I kept wondering, "Why am I watching this?" Grade: D-

"Pandemic: A Killer Flu-sical" — RagTag Entertainment has a reputation for taking prime talents and turning them into mincemeat. Here, we have some professionals (Robert Williamson and William Waldrop) lending their gifts to an imbecilic musical about a terminal disease set to old-style show tunes. Obvious jokes abound. The cast members put over their songs expertly, but they’re trapped. Grade: D-

"My Best Dish" — The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ senior theater program has put together a four-woman, mostly readers theater show about the relationship between recipes and gossip. It has charm, but feels out of place. Director Doug Hill doesn’t get much in the way of performances, but you get dessert after the show. Grade: F

"Celebrity" — House of Tribes’ series of monologues on the perils of fame by Charles E. Drew and Lalanya Abner, features a slew of promising actors ineptly directed by Abner. Everything is intense, but little feels organic. It’s surprising how slight the script’s observations about celebrityhood are. Don’t the authors know we watch the same TMZ videos? Grade: F

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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