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‘Marriage’ cast, director transcend script

I can’t imagine a better cast — on a professional or amateur stage — than the one performing Christopher Durang’s "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" at Nevada Conservatory Theatre.

Durang’s 1985 absurdist comedy gives us a portrait of an extended family that, at first, seems like something out of happy musical. But then stillborn babies start getting thrown on the floor by an uncaring doctor. Emily, a former convent girl, goes in and out of institutions. Bette’s father-in-law, Karl, drinks his days away and spews out variations of "My wife hasn’t said one sensible thing in 30 years."

Rayme Cornell’s direction guides the cast past the zaniness to the human parts underneath. The actors never forget that this is, above all, a story of the horror of lost faith.

Jaime Puckett as Bette, for example, comes across as a likable, flighty woman with a warm but off-centered Cate Blanchett smile. But when she and alcoholic husband Boo (played by the poignant Clifton Yada) tear into each other, you’re overwhelmed by the depth of their loneliness. That makes the destruction of their union as painful as it is humorous.

Matt (Robert Bartusch) is our "Glass Menagerie"-ish narrator/son, and his Clark Kent-earnestness makes us want to hear his story. His expert command of body and voice allows us to believe that he’s growing up (emotionally scarred) before our eyes.

Robert Hamilton spits out lines with such bitterness and wit that he makes the character of Boo’s father something straight out of "All About Eve." Chelsea Locke’s Emily is so well-meaning and naïve that you want to reach out and protect her. Stephan Maeder’s turn as a priest who has little knowledge of both heaven and earth is stand-up comedy perfect. And Stephanie Reynolds as the forever-pregnant Joan internalizes a chip on her shoulder so well that we yearn to know more about what’s driven her to unhappiness.

Heather M. Caliguire’s set of brightly colored cubes and geometric shapes infuses the tale with an undercurrent of nursery-school morality. And Christopher Mears’ lights often surprise with lyrical touches. He’s greatly aided by the director’s strong visual sense, which gives Mears the opportunity to illuminate some breathtaking stage pictures.

The script is repetitive and often hits easy targets. But the actors and director get so inside the material, that they transcend it. You feel a part of this family. Not many actors and directors can achieve that kind of intimacy.

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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