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‘Masks of Rioclora’ overdoes the mysticism

There’s a central mystery in the script of “The Masks of Rioclora” that’s missing from the Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s world premiere production.

Maine playwright Richard Sewell gives us a “magic realism” tale about two women, mother (Kama Ruby) and daughter (Meredith Wolfe), who, for their own reasons, have come to a small, dusty South American town to speak with reclusive poet-novelist Juan Rioclora.

The script has an enjoyable tease: Who is Rioclora, really? Is he the daughter’s long-lost father? Is the daughter really there for strictly professional reasons? Or is she scheming because she knows she and the man may be related? Is the mother there to hatch her own scheme? Is the writer even alive? And what is going on with the two older women (Sherri Brewer and Charlene Sher) who seem to be taking care of him? Are they just nuts or is there a clever conspiracy underfoot?

Sewell supplements his riveting plot with a ghost (Spencer Rowe) and huge masks that, you suspect, are in danger of slipping into consciousness.

Director Michael Tylo gives the tale an earnest go, but his fatal mistake is that he overdoes the mysticism. When we first meet Rioclora, it’s obvious an actress playing another role is impersonating him, so that a major dramatic thread is wiped out. Later, Tylo has the actor playing the ghost also play Rioclora. We’re never quite sure what is going on. Tylo has taken care of the “magic”, but there’s not enough realism for us to make sense of the story. There’s no dramatic tension; just a lot of heavy-handed artiness. You keep wishing Tylo would get out of the way and allow Sewell’s story to breathe.

The director, though, has mounted a handsome production. David Tolin’s set is small-scaled, but every simple item — from a flower bed to a water well to the maze of masks — feels perfectly placed. Lee Terry’s lights create an attractively eerie atmosphere. And George Wang’s sound helps suggest an environment rich in life.

Brewer is an amusing, likable eccentric. Sher carries herself with puffed-up airs and manages to go beyond caricature in her portrayal of a complicated woman with a past. The two actresses are pros, and it’s always a pleasure to be in their company.

It’s unfortunate that Wolfe is so one-note strident through much of the evening. We see the story through her eyes, and it’s not an inviting vision.

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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