The Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s “Summers of Fear” may not be the worst production I’ve ever seen at the Judy Bayley, but it would be grim business to conjure up memories of its inferiors.
Writer Robert Benedetti has penned a play about Jonas Salk’s attempts to find and promote a polio vaccine. Trouble is, in his apparent zeal to educate us, the author has forgotten that drama is about character and conflict.
Benedetti rushes from one event to the other so quickly and carelessly that he never allows us to get to know the people in this world. Salk is generic: saintly, eccentric, misunderstood and as lovable as a sometimes-naughty puppy. Those who oppose his methodology are misguided simpletons. To make matters worse, Salk is portrayed by an actor, Steve Rapella, who seems more concerned with posture and vocal patterns than soul. The actor gives us a cardboard cut-out of a historical figure.
Benedetti pollutes the tale with the likes of Salk’s wife (the warmly human Lauren T. Mack), who has little more to do than say things similar to, “Oh, please dear, don’t go save the world tonight; stay here with me and the children.” He doesn’t particularize the relationship. I always wonder when I meet such broadly written characters what these women were thinking when they married their dedicated-to-their-jobs husbands.
Surface narration is often substituted for storytelling. You keep wishing Benedetti had chosen to dramatize many of the things he explains. Director Brad Carroll keeps the nonaction moving briskly and gets some fine work from a handful of university students, all of whom are stuck in small roles. But Carroll can’t seem to deal with Rapella. And he’s authorized a set (by Dana Moran Williams) of plain, multi-leveled platforms that are functional but unattractive. There also are two screens that play host to nothing but visual redundancies. You wonder, too, why such a small-scaled show is being performed on such a big stage.
Be it known that Benedetti is the conservatory’s artistic director, and that he selected his dreary script for production. How sad that this slot wasn’t used to introduce students and the community to one of the many great plays this town has yet to see.
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: “Summers of Fear”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday;
2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Judy Bayley Theatre, University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $20-$30 (895-2787)