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EMAV Review: NCT’s 'Good Kids' offers a fine ensemble

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

★★★½☆'s - Satisfying

Naomi Iizuka’s Good Kids is a nonpareil ensemble piece that is getting a top tier staging at Nevada Conservatory Theatre.

Director Darren Weller has staged a restless, constantly morphing production that is uncompromisingly compelling and disturbingly contemporary, mirroring today’s headlines.

The plot concerns Chloe, a free spirited, sexually active high school student. At a liquor-infused party, Chloe can’t remember what happened, but she wakes up in a strange basement, unclothed. Everyone is talking about it. In a world of Twitter and Facebook, documentation of a group sexual encounter gone bad is shared and re-tweeted. We are not sure whose version of the events to believe.

It is hard to believe that the film "The Accused" with Jodie Foster exposed this same scenario almost thirty years ago. The current headlines about Weinstein, the Access Hollywood tape, and the Me, Too campaign sadly reveal that not much has changed. A program note disturbingly relates one in four women, and one in five men on college campuses will be sexually assaulted.

Mr. Weller has made a riveting case for Ms. Iizuka’s opus, which is characterized by non-linear storytelling. There are flashbacks, instant replays (or resets) galore, and searing personal encounters. Weller makes dramatic sense of the mosaic of impressions the script presents. He has developed a very distinctive characterization with each actor, and his fluid staging is a mesmerizing choreography that moves the show along in a performance space that is configured in a thrust set-up, with the audience on three sides of the action.

There are numerous sections of layered, choral recitation and Darren has paced these with laser like precision. But his greatest achievement may be the timing and inventiveness of the execution, mollifying some of the more repetitive segments of the writing.

The ensemble playing was flat out superb. A talented team of actors was unified in their effort to create a meaningful realization of this potent drama. Nonetheless, they made indelible impressions in their solo contributions.

As the central lead Chloe, Kristina Wells anchors the show, by turns appealing and appalling. Ms. Wells is freewheeling, uninhibited in her hedonism, and ultimately tragic in her fate. It is notoriously hard to play drunk, and if she does not always completely succeed, when it counts, she delivered a meaningful impersonation.

As her friend Daphne, Isabella Rooks was solid and appealing, more engaging in her dramatic declamations than her giggling comradery, which was a bit forced. Tola Lawal’s Amber was a volatile, opinionated, imperious Drama Queen, served up with sass and class. Caroline Sanchez was a fine Brianna, a spoiled cheerleader type who was in denial that a rape had occurred. Ruliko Cronin made the most of her “tough girl” persona as Madison, impressing with some contentious confrontations and her total commitment. Diminutive Christina Harvey was a spunky victim as Chloe’s cousin Kylie. Wheelchair bound Sarah Rice started out a bit acidic as the ersatz-narrator Deirdre, but won me over as the show went on, becoming a surprising Deus (Dea?) ex machina by show’s conclusion. As the “conscience” of the show, Lauren Tauber was an impressively affecting Skyler.

The male contingent was equally well represented. Arguably the most well-rounded performance of the night, Keach Siriani-Madden found enormous variety in the role of the hot headed footballer Ty. Asheton Stoever was a sympathetic Tanner, passively ineffectual, but criminally liable. Dominic Graber-Pritchard was an appealing Landon, good natured, likeable, and thick, if at times a little too over the top vocally. As the football star Connor, Tavius Cortez offered a well modulated, focused, scrappy, performance, even if he was a bit slight physically to be the star football player he aspires to be.

Irma Chavez-Ramirez has provided an imminently workable set design. There is a mock proscenium arch, and a no man’s land of a thrust playing space that is populated by a stylish “island” that is a series of steps, a ramp, and an elevated playing space. Andrew Killion has contributed a masterful lighting design that is a key component in the evening’s success. Mr. Killion has combined isolated areas, atmospheric washes, haunting cross lighting, colorful specials, and moody spotlights, to serve up a visual delight of illumination. He was ably abetted by Rakitha Perera, whose inventive projections commented potently on the dramatic discourse. Hailey Eakle’s spot on costumes completed the technical triumph.

Good Kids is not an easy sit. But it is a massively important one. Thanks to Darren Weller and his skilled artistic team, the show flies by in a short 90-minutes. But be advised the message of the piece will endure long after the curtain falls on this well-realized production.

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