UNLV’s one-acts add up to major, satisfying night

The barest of sets. A tiny auditorium. Three one-acts by student playwrights. Somehow, these ingredients are transformed by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas into a major (but minimalist) evening of theater.

Neil Haven’s “The Playdaters” — about a man (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) having trouble separating reality from virtual reality — is comedic and genuinely touching. Most notably, it provides Brooks Asher with the opportunity for a tour-de-force performance. And to say he takes advantage of it is an understatement. Whether impersonating a sadistic young German, or a drunk trying desperately to appear sober, or a circus clown lamenting his life as a lonely, single man, Asher is effortlessly realistic and mesmerizing. Director Josh Penzell elicits amiable, skilled performances from just about his entire five-member cast.

“Replica” — an intriguing drama by Jeremiah Munsey — begins with what appears to be three Civil War-era soldiers secretly burning a body in the dead of night. The fun of the play is in Munsey’s excellent ability to slowly reveal plot details, so that we hang in suspense most of the time wondering what’s really going on. The three men — the authoritative Ryan Fonville, the baby-faced Jack Mikesell and the beefy and powerful Jake Sauter — are well-contrasted and are all major actors. They benefit from Pascal Marcotte’s solid direction. The writing gets a bit heavy-handed around the middle. But Munsey recovers in time to provide a rich, open-ended finale. I have a feeling the more Munsey writes, the less he’ll feel a need to tie-up so neatly (and artificially) all of his story stands. A little mystery might give his work the depth it deserves.

Elizabeth Leavitt’s “Me and My Man-Fish” is full of laughs. She obviously has a gift for sketch. But this script is plagued by too many obvious jokes and illogical plot turns. Director Kenn McLeod, though, gets a couple of surprisingly clean and precise performances by Savannah Smith-Thomas, as a neurotic, wannabe writer who has faked a book about an adventure she’s never lived, and Elisabeth Bokhoven, as an equally neurotic employee of Oprah Winfrey’s book club who must prove to Oprah that the adventure book is genuine.

The plays add up to the one of the most satisfying nights I’ve had at the UNLV one-acts in at least a dozen years. The writing, directing and acting talent reach superior levels, which gives the simple evening the impact of a major production.

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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