When you first enter McMullan’s Irish Pub, you’re immediately struck by the loud conversations and wonder how anyone could possibly do a production here. But once the doors are closed inside the pub’s performing space (Shenanigans), you’re transported into a different world — at least while “Durty Nelly’s Lullaby” is playing there.
The show’s creators seem to have appeared out of the blue. They call themselves the British National Theatre of America, and most of those involved have some kind of connection to Cirque du Soleil.
“Durty” is a physical theater piece, under an hour, that extends a simple dramatic set-up into an evening of interpretative dance, clowning and acrobatics.
Set in a Northern Irish pub in the late 1980s, director Jo Cattell’s seedling of a story is expounded upon by its two cast members, Cirque’s “Love” performer Joel Howard and local dancer Anastasia Weiss. The jilted young woman daydreams her way through her chores at the family-owned bar until her man returns, apparently ready to settle down after seeing the world. But as one might guess, things are not the same.
One naturally expects first-rate dancing in a program like this, but what’s surprising is the performers’ ability to crystallize the emotional details that movement cannot. Howard and Weiss come across as genuine actors. We can read their tiny shifts in mood.
The playing space is small — a bit of bare floor, with the raked audience seated proscenium style in just a few rows. The pub itself — the counters, the dispensers — serve as the minimum set, and you’re frequently amazed at how many different styles of movement can be born of simple saloon equipment. Also, what feel like the everyday lights of the working pub are skillfully put to the dramatic needs of the story. The physical atmosphere never feels second-rate or restricted.
The intimate setting offers an opportunity to see the two dancers up-close. It’s one thing to watch a series of backward flips on a distant stage. It’s quite another to watch them inches from your feet.
Cattell heightens her story with a few surprising visual effects, including screen-enhanced storms and projections that the characters seem to become a part of. There’s also a priceless visual joke regarding a suitcase that makes for one of those muddling, mysterious moments that Cirque is famous for.
“Durty Nelly’s Lullaby” is a great gift for the new local theater season. It’s another reminder that exciting productions can be found in just about every nook and cranny of this crazy town.
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.REVIEW
What: “Durty Nelly’s Lullaby”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday; 1 p.m. Thursday-Friday
Where: Shenanigans at McMullan’s Irish Pub, 4650 W. Tropicana Ave.
Tickets: $8 (bntofa.org)