Evening of O’Neill suggests talent at CSN

Fans of Eugene O’Neill — and what serious drama lover isn’t? — likely will enjoy the College of Southern Nevada’s “The Sniper.” It’s an early one-act in O’Neill’s canon (1915), and I doubt if many people would call it a good play. But there are unexpected flashes of genius in it. And it’s fun to experience a legendary artist just beginning to search for his voice.

World War I. A crumbling cottage in a small Belgian village. Evidence of artillery fire everywhere. A peasant (Rudy Alvarado) cradling the body of his solider son (Randy Messaoudi). A priest (Robert Gilmer) trying to comfort him. Beyond the hole-pocked walls, the sounds of constant threats. German soldiers (Adam Schaefer, Sean Cancellieri and Gabriel De Santiago) invading the turf. The fate of the peasant and priest hang in the balance.

Director Brian Kral, lighting designer Cindy Frei and set designer Gary Carton do an expert job of suggesting the terror lurking just beyond the room.

Although you have to make allowances for the all-student cast, Kral elicits the right attitudes. The actors commit to the roles so strongly that they infuse the atmosphere with a strong sense of panic. The play couldn’t survive without that.

Particularly intriguing is Alvarado as the grieving peasant. He doesn’t try to suggest the man’s old age, but concentrates on projecting the depth of the character’s sorrow. He has a straight-forward, unpretentious way with a line, and, despite his youth, draws you into the elder’s point-of-view. Messaoudi also achieves something that ain’t so easy: He makes you believe he’s really a corpse.

I wish Kral didn’t end things with a projection announcing, “Will it never end?” The director is least effective when he gets moralistic and spells things out for his audience. (Do we really need to be told that yesterday’s anti-war plays still have relevancy today?)

And Kral’s pre-“Sniper” one-man show, in which he impersonates the author, gets things off to a dreary start. Kral’s script is more of a classroom lecture than a dramatic monologue. His O’Neill comes off as a folksy, reasonably tempered, good-humored Will Rogers — all the things O’Neill was not.

This isn’t the sort of evening likely to appeal to the average theatergoer. But if you’re fascinated with the life and work of America’s greatest playwright, I’d guess you’d have as good a time as I did. And the performances suggest there may be more talent than we suspected at the often underappreciated CSN.

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

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