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‘Night at the Dogs’ offers one of the best ensembles you’ll see

The quality of British National Theatre of America’s current "A Night at the Dogs" can be divided into thirds. The first is pleasant, but doesn’t quite capture the script’s ominous suggestions of upcoming conflict. The second, which begins with the entrance of a thug character and ends with a door buzz that we know is going to be the beginning of a life-and-death encounter, is masterful. The third section, the entire second act, is an outright mess.

The enormously talented young British playwright Matt Charman has a unique way with dialogue; a bit Harold Pinter, a lot Martin McDonagh.

Carl (John Brady) is a chronic schemer who now hopes to hit the big time by creating a dog-racing syndicate. He and his partners meet at his run-down Southern England flat. All the men are discontents, but the problems don’t really begin until Paul (Martin Andrew), a middle-aged, fast-talking neurotic, unexpectedly pops in. He’s got something on his mind, and it ain’t pretty. I won’t say more, because a good deal of the pleasure of the first act is the deepening of the action.

Director Jo Cattell has organized one of the finest ensembles (all of whom are involved in Strip shows; mostly "Le Reve") you’re likely to see on a local stage. All five actors do expert jobs of listening.

Brady as Carl suggests a boy/man who desperately needs to be looked up to. Sam Welbourn, as Carl’s brother Danny, projects the most earnest nature of the group. He and Brady create a beautifully realistic love/hate rapport.

Andrew comes across as a walking stick of dynamite. We understand why the other men, when they see him, are immediately afraid.

And Miles Coleman, as the affable, simple, ever-smiling Chalky, delivers a superbly understated performance. He doesn’t have much to do, but he’s so completely in character that you’re always eager to read his tiny shifts in thought.

Cattell’s pacing is at its best when the playwright is at his best. In the second act, Cattell overdoses on Charman’s histrionics. We suddenly don’t believe in the behavior of most of the characters, and the final moments when all is revealed are downright laughable.

But I can’t get that second section out of my mind; nor the cast. Cattell’s production may be flawed, but it’s always intelligent, and sometimes great. The interplay between the actors alone should make it a memorable evening for lovers of intense dramas.

REVIEW

What: "A Night at the Dogs"

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Where: College of Southern Nevada BackStage Theatre, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave.

Tickets: $12 (497-0159)

Grade: B

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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