David Kranes’ ‘Nevada’ not a pretty place

To honor the state’s sesquicentennial, Nevada Conservatory Theatre is presenting David Kranes’ memory play “Nevada.”

The main character, Gene, takes you back to the first time he, his girlfriend and a hanger-on cross the state line and spend a day in the mythical land of the West, the kind of place where dreams are made. Throughout the play, Gene breaks the fourth wall in reverie over all manner of things.

In the end, this is not a pretty place, dreams are shattered rather than made, and as Kranes depicts life, we wonder why anyone would care to come here, let alone stay for even a short while. The script is disjointed and full of stereotypical caricatures, rather than people we can connect with.

In his director’s notes, Donald Brenner states the goal is a “lyrical, non-realistic, nuanced production.” Yet everything is presented with a brash, overbearing and overstated intensity. When Gene is about to relate something important in an aside to the audience, lights sweep across the stage accompanied by a loud thunder-style sound effect. When time passes, the stage darkens and we’re treated to the noisy clanging of slot machines trumpeting a winning spin.

Hanger-on Logan, played by Sam Cordes, is the loud, socially inept, overbearing drinker and gambler dreaming of striking it rich. Cordes plays him to the hilt. There’s no subtleness in motion, expression or vocal range. He lopes across the stage in long strides, arms waving, bellowing his lines.

Jasmine Mathews plays the girlfriend, Shelly, with all wide-eyed wonder. Shelly has body issues, yet Mathews rarely embodies that characteristic as she relentlessly chases Gene, begs for attention, declares her love and prods him to return that love and marry her. At the state line, she cries out for her companions to notice the brightness of lights amid the blazing sun.

Jesse Bourque plays Gene with an overdrawn dynamic. He also takes no notice of his space. Hands penetrate and grab the representational motel room wall for support, at one point he actually sits on it. His light-isolated remembrances are an insistent one level.

The denizens of the mythical town and gaming establishment run the clownish gambit. There’s the Pit Boss who does everything but oversee the games, the bored bartender who’s married to the bored and thievish blackjack dealer, the carnival-barking craps dealer/croupier, and the bad lounge singer determined to hit it big in Reno. And we mustn’t forget the sour mash-loving, dementia-ridden town resident, Oldest Man in Nevada. This is the Nevada our politicians and PR companies battle against.

The flashy, garish portrayals don’t allow us to connect with any of the characters on any level. We’re never drawn in by them. When Shelly dies in a van rollover, we don’t mourn her loss. When it’s too late and Gene finally admits his love for her, we can’t feel sorry for him.

It would be easy to blame the actors, but most of them are in the MFA Professional Training Program of the Conservatory Theatre. You don’t reach this level without talent.

Brenner has done them a disservice. There’s nothing lyrical or nuanced in any of the production values, but the unrealistic is dealt in spades.

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