‘Mister Roberts’ a sea of fun

One of the lucky things about going to a community theater is that you’re more likely to see big-cast plays.

Today, few professional playhouses could afford hiring the 16 or more actors required for the perennial favorite "Mister Roberts." The Las Vegas Little Theatre production of the comic life aboard a World War II cargo ship is a warm and enjoyable experience. You won’t likely mistake it for art, but then too, you will probably develop by the end of the evening an affection for the cast and characters.

After the memorable 1955 Henry Fonda film, does any adult need to be told the plot? Well, OK, just in case.

Lt. J.G. Roberts (Scott Ast) is tired of being stuck in the Pacific without seeing battle. His life is made more miserable by a captain (Joseph Hammond) who get his kicks disciplining his crew. Of course, this crew might bring out the disciplinarian in any officer. What can you do, for example, with a man like Ensign Pulver (Mark Brunton) who seems to see the war as nothing more than a chance to show his creativity for seduction? The men wind up hatching a scheme to help Roberts realize his dream of being assigned to a destroyer. Things don’t turn out, though, the way everyone expects.

Director Jim Williams does the most important thing right: He makes sure we want to spend time with these guys. There are several good actors aboard, but what’s equally vital is that all the performers come across as charming people. Even Hammond’s bellowing is welcomed. He seems like a bully straight out of "Beetle Bailey," and you can’t help but smile when he plays hard-ass. Particularly noteworthy is Brunton as the mischievous Pulver. He has the sort of childlike grin and love-of-life deviousness that gets laughs on a mere entrance.

Occasionally, the playing becomes a bit sloppy. It’s not likely a seaman would stand in front of a commanding officer with his hands in his pocket or attend a formation with no hat on. These are the sort of details that seem minor, but their accumulation plays a big role in our accepting or rejecting the basic situation.

Ron Lindblom’s set does an amusing shuffle between the ship’s deck and its inner bowels. You believe that you are glimpsing into a cabin somewhere far down below. And then seconds later, you’re back on deck again, breathing easier.

If you’re in a critical mood, you’ll find much to object to. But I can’t imagine most people not having fun.

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