You get a good feel for what you’re in for the moment you enter Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Fischer Black Box for its production of Will Kern’s 1995 "Hellcab." A full-size taxi sits on a tiny stage in what looks like a fleet garage in slum city. Director/production designer Troy Heard has littered the grim surroundings with loud graffiti. It’s no surprise to find out that we’re in Chicago. The bad side.
It isn’t long before Gus Langley, as the shaggy driver, takes the wheel and begins his day of picking up an assortment of mostly eccentric passengers. (Andy Smith’s sound design goes a long way in convincing us the cab is in motion.)
Heard allows us to feel as if we’re really watching a driver in action, and that the passengers are really people arbitrarily picked up on a city street. Langley makes his lead character a bored, streetwise man running on automatic pilot. His tough exterior makes his emotional moments all the more moving. We don’t expect such childlike decency from such a no-nonsense, sloppy-looking, inarticulate man.
The actors perform a variety of characters, which demonstrates their range. Ronn L.Williams Jr. is one minute a physically abusive, high-strung boyfriend, the next, he’s a well-adjusted architect, able to put other people’s misery in perspective. He’s effortlessly effective in both extremes. Ginnie Barnson portrays an assortment of comic characters so well, that it throws you when in one scene she announces to the driver, "I’ve just been raped." Barnson makes you believe the line is the result of a just experienced traumatic event. There’s no melodrama in her voice, just fear and anger, and that makes the moment genuinely shocking.
And Shane Cullum inhabits everyone from a nerdy (but well-meaning) religious fanatic, to a cold, self-absorbed entrepreneur, pleased with his ability to seduce naive women. Cullum seems to make only minimalist changes in speech and manner, yet he knows how to breathe different souls into different characters. He’s hardly recognizable role to role.
Director Heard captures the gentle side of this often miserable environment. But he doesn’t back off from the hostility. The result is an adult holiday tale that finds redemption in the worst of human nature.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at email@example.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (through Dec. 19)
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre Fischer Black Box, 3920 Schiff Drive
Tickets: $14-$15 (362-7996; lvlt.org)