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‘Nurture’ uneven but entertaining

If you think your nuclear family is messed up, you might want to see the production of “Nurture” now playing at Cockroach Theatre. You’re bound to leave feeling your life is not so insane.

This new dark comedy by New York-based Johnna Adams gives us two single parents who meet at a children’s dance recital. He (Erik Amblad) freely admits his loneliness and is sexually aggressive, while she (Francine Gordon) tries to mask her hunger for companionship with a tidal wave of negativity.

At first, the man seems the more “normal” of the two, but it winds up he’s just as off-kilter. He pulls a bizarre stunt in the second act that may leave you catching your breath.

Adams’ sharp, pingpong dialogue is often a cliff-hanger, with an irresistible Sam Shepard twang. Director Jason Goldberg keys into her rhythms and understands her talent.

Gordon, in the first act, exhibits an extraordinary ability to get under the skin of an eccentric character. You laugh at her self-hatred but always feel it’s genuine. She’s one of Vegas’ most natural performers.

But Amblad is getting more artificial with every production he’s in. He seems to memorize his attitudes and then works hard at mechanically re-creating them. He can’t seem to find a director who’s able to tone down his mannerisms. These two actors are a study in contrasts: Her emotions are internally based; his are indicated.

The script eventually becomes repetitive, making me wonder if it might be more powerful as a lengthy one-act. Goldberg shows skilled control in pacing and in getting the best from Gordon, but he and his actress don’t pull off the vocal variety needed for act two (I’m in sympathy with them; Adams has some serious rewriting ahead of her).

Arles Estes’ sound design adds a dimension of horror. He fills the room with ominous echoes of baby laughter, rain, lightning and music boxes.

It all makes for an uneven but highly entertaining evening.

This is 10-year-old Cockroach Theatre’s first production in a new, intimate downtown space. It suggests exciting things to follow.

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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