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Academy actors get room to dazzle in ‘Departed’

"Dearly Departed" — now at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts — is a trifle of a play that forces you to laugh against your better instincts.

The 1992 comedy by actors David Bottrell and Jessie Jones is an homage to Southern white trash.

Bud Sr. (Daniel Ryan) drops dead at the kitchen table. The family gathers for the funeral. They’re the usual assortment of backwoods Bible Belt ninnies, struggling with loud kids, lost dreams, booze, bills, overeating and oversexing.

The authors don’t know much about character logic or structure, but they do know rhythms. They give actors room to dazzle. And the jokes are so bad that you’re bound to have a good time, if you don’t let your pride get in the way.

What makes this bare-bones production special is the ability of director Robert Connor and his 19-member cast to get past the nonsense and create a genuinely moving experience.

Sure, the actors often exhibit first-rate comic timing, but what stays with you are the small, human moments. The tender way Vanessa Hill as Mama Raynelle cuddles a pair of scissors as she recalls a long-ago memory. The simple, Pavlovian reactions Anna Bax displays as the young Delightful (in a role double-cast with Tiffany Ocampo) whenever there is junk food spotted in the area. The confidence Drew Lynch as Junior is suddenly filled with when he remembers an affair that made him feel, for the first time in a long while, like a real man. The happiness that overwhelms Farrahn Kelso as Suzanne, and the ever-amazing Lynch, when their husband-and-wife characters finally stop fighting and realize how much they want their troubled marriage to work.

There are times when the cast lets down its guard and goes for the easy laugh. And one could argue that a magnet high school should better spend its time on more worthwhile projects.

But "Dearly Departed" is a demonstration of why the academy is among our city’s best theater troupes. You’d be hard pressed to find a local adult company that could bring such reality to such a noodle of a script.

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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