"Lonely Planet" starts out with the sort of explosive energy that fools you into believing you’re watching a smart, well-acted comedy.
We’re in a map store, in the form of a cleverly detailed, cozy set by David Sankuer. Jody (Troy Tinker) is the kind-hearted owner who doesn’t have the guts to leave his shop and face the world. Carl (Brian Scott), a close friend and hanger-on, seems to be little more than a dim-witted eccentric who compulsively collects chairs. It isn’t long before the store (and the stage ceiling) is awash in different types of seats. It winds up Carl is much saner than we first realized, and the dynamics of the relationship between the two men are much more complicated.
It’s fun watching this 1993 story unfold, although the more I understood what was going on, the less I liked the play. Author Steven Dietz and director Walter Niejadlik are not masters of understatement.
We have an almost immediate problem with Scott. It’s hard to figure out an eccentric when played by an actor who lacks spontaneity. Scott’s too controlling a performer, too slick. He doesn’t become characters, he interprets them.
Tinker has a jovial, bigger-than-life teddy bear presence and a commanding speaking voice. But he’s been directed to deliver a weepy performance that becomes less effective with every tear. It’s as if Niejadlik doesn’t trust the audience to be moved by the poignant moments, so he has Tinker lay it on so thick that you want to belt the guy and tell him to get over himself.
Niejadlik’s blocking, as is true of much of his work, is overly presentational. When a big scene arrives, the director often has his actors talk to the audience, even when the person the character is supposed to be talking to is behind him or to his side.
Tinker’s talent suggests he could have single-handedly saved "Lonely Planet." But the show is too much a case of "less would be more." The director has his characters eager for drama, when you suspect drama is the last thing they want in their lives.
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.REVIEW
What: "Lonely Planet"
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (through Feb. 6)
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre Black Box, 3920 Schiff Drive
Tickets: $14-$15 (362-7996; lvlt.org)