Updated: Oct 13
Editor's note: Every year we look forward to the theatrical inspiration from companies across the valley that comes together for the Vegas Fringe, hosted by Las Vegas Little Theatre. Our team of reviewers has worked to cover each of the 11 shows. Here is the first in our series from
Lisa Bennett. The Fringe continues 6/15-6/18. Beat the heat and catch them all this weekend!
Las Vegas Little Theatre’s eighth annual “VegasFringe” festival lived up to the ideal of being a showcase for challenging works, at least for the three shows I was able to watch in their Black Box venue on Sunday.
Thujone's Theatre Tribe
This gut-wrenching yet riveting original work, written and directed by Oliver Jones and debuted by Thujone’s Theatre Tribe, packs a lot of punch into 45 minutes of running time. It’s a strange saga about a polygamous group of three women and their sadistic husband who seem karmically doomed to play out their dysfunctional relationship over and over through three different, parallel family units (one is a circus) during the Victorian era. Ideas about birth and death figure prominently, and the story feels like a religious allegory about being trapped in hell, heaven, and the place in between.
The archetypal women are victims of horrible abuse, and they are exploited early on. While it fits the narrative a suspenseful scene of graphic sex and violence is so realistic it’s painful to watch, though actors appear here as shadows in dimly-lit darkness and we’re mostly spared the stark visuals. But we can see enough, and the sounds of suffering can’t be unheard.
The actors plumb their depths. The elegant Angela Ray Clark gives an intricate pathos to tight-rope walker Joan, the most devoted of the wives and the one we most empathize with; an earthy Anna Allred as the ever-pregnant Cindy and a feisty Mindy Gilkerson as woman/child Martha feel stronger as an intertwined duo of schemers rather than as individuals; and a wraithlike Shane Cullum truly terrifies as the slithery, sociopathic Hank, and valiantly tries to reconcile the early, evil sadist with the underwritten character in later scenes.
“32112” will shock you out of your comfort zone and is a unique, thought-provoking piece, but the characters could use more development and the plot threads more meat. Like Cindy’s baby it needs more time to gestate.
"One for the Road" ★★★★☆
Torn Kite Theatre Company
The Torn Kite Theatre Company expertly crafts disturbing, agitprop angst for their presentation of Harold Pinter’s political play “One for the Road,” directed by Josh Sigal. Four ensemble members each learned and rehearsed all four characters and alternate in the roles throughout the run. To top it off, immediately after each show the cast gives an encore performance with a surprise configuration different from the first. It allows for a malleable, fluid interpretation of Pinter's piece, which transcends time and is as relevant now as it was when he penned it in 1984.
About a sadistic, authoritarian interrogator named Nicolas who psychologically torments dissidents Victor and his wife Gila along with their son Nicky, the play is a chilling commentary on the human rights abuses of totalitarian regimes. When a subtly menacing Ace Charles as Nicolas says "I love death," we wholeheartedly believe him. He savors each stream-of-consciousness line, even finding the time for a few "Pinter pauses" as he circles the terrified Victor, played by Jacob Moore, like a hawk zeroing in on his prey. While Moore doesn't look disheveled enough to be a torture victim (performing the second show might limit costume choices) we can see the fear in his darting eyes and tremulous movements.
The vivacious Stefanie McCue took a turn as Nicolas for the second show, and epitomizes his self-description of "chatty." Her personable nature easily brings out Pinter's ironic humor, but she’s still evil to the core. She draws a devastated Charles as Victor into her web with calculated ease, then stings when the time is right. When she coldly teases a beaten down Shana Brouwers as Gila about being raped by soldiers, Brouwers shrinks and pleads in desperation. It’s nice to see the ensemble show off their acting chops, and to get a different take on each character.
"Former Boyfriends of Maddie Support Group" ★★☆☆☆
Aztec Pyramid Scheme
This sketch comedy show was written and performed by Aztec Pyramid Scheme’s Devin Beckwith, Kyle Goulston, and Louis Hillegass IV, and directed by Derek Shipman.
Like the title says, college aged-boys who dated and were dumped by the charismatic Maddie form a talk therapy group headed by a doctor, where they monitor Maddie’s Facebook wall and commiserate about their heartbreak.
Hillegass IV plays both Dr. Stilton and Maddie, while Beckwith and Goulston play her six suitors. Though the performers display natural talent and there are funny moments, the show is messy and the humor is juvenile, with lines like “I’m not a dweeb, I’m just super woke.” One guy even gets kicked out of the “happiest place in the world” because he’s unhappy when Maddie falls for a blow up doll/guy on a pirate ride. The show’s idea is intriguing and it might work better as a play with streamlined situations and characters, but it definitely needs to be polished. That being said, the audience loved it.