EMAV Review: Fringe-Aversary! Part four

'VegasFringe' explores dysfunctional families with strange secrets at LVLT

For Las Vegas Little Theatre's 10th annual "VegasFringe Festival" I saw two full-length plays--both about dysfunctional families--that fit the idea of shows that exist outside the norm.

"The House of Yes"

Las Vegas Little Theatre

★★★½ ☆- Satisfying+

With sibling incest as a main theme, LVLT's stark presentation of Wendy MacLeod's 1990 dark comedy "The House of Yes" epitomizes "disturbing" as an unofficial category of fringe. About a wealthy, insulated and odd family who don't have the word "no" in their vocabulary, a storm brews both outdoors and inside when brother Marty--who fled his family in search of normalcy--inexplicably returns home with his new fiancée Lesly for Thanksgiving dinner. It's been 20 years since their father left the family in 1963, on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mother Pascal is disconnected from emotion, sister Jackie-O has an unnamed mental illness, and brother Anthony has dropped out of college to care for them both. But Jackie-O loves Marty a little too much, and she draws him back into her warped world so they can replay their game of JFK's assassination (and thus their father's departure) by reenacting the moment of his shooting. It's titillating foreplay and they subconsciously detach from their deviant sexual union because they are portraying other people.

On opening night the show overall was intriguing, but the energy and pacing felt flat. Directed by David Morey, the cast doesn't always capture the crispness of MacLeod's witty dialogue, so some of the dry humor is lost, and some scenes don't have the tension and build they need to make an impact. Chris Davies' fringe-friendly set design uses black cubes configured to represent functional furniture--like the sofa of the living room or the bed in the guest quarters--which are easily rearranged through multiple scene changes. The spareness gives the show an eerie existential quality, though the feeling of wealth gets watered down with a single, stained-glass Tiffany lamp symbolizing opulent decor. And much of the action takes place on the soft sofa and bed, so the hard cubes inhibit the movement of actors in that sense. The costumes, by Loryanna Michalek, give a wealthy feel to the clothing of Mrs. Pascal contrasted with the organic looks of the bourgeoise Lesly (though her sequin dinner dress doesn't fit the character). And Ginny Adams' lighting design illuminates actors with a clarity that matches the mood whether in lightness or candlelit darkness.

Anita Bean as Mrs. Pascal and Noah Keeling as Anthony give the most subtext and depth to their characters, and both have a feel for the rhythms of MacLeod's clever speech. Bean has a regal bearing and droll delivery, and seems wound so tight she might spring at any moment like a predator protecting her brood, while Keeling gives Anthony a sweetness that hides his manipulative nature. Jade Elizabeth captures both the yearning and the mercurial aspects of Jackie-O, though she lacks the character's sophistication, while Chris Von Uebbing as Marty matches her in twin-type looks but seems merely a man who has surrendered his destiny to his sister's guile. And Andrea Borges as Lesly has an earthy, sensible quality that contrasts with the others but lacks the naiveté that gives the character her charm.

Because of taboo themes and sexual situations, this show is not recommended for children. Showtimes: June 15@5:45pm and June 16@7pm, Mainstage.

"Eagle River"

M-Wil Productions of Las Vegas

★★½☆☆ - Still Hungry

For a more conventional yet also dysfunctional family drama with a few twists and wacky characters of its own, look no further than M-Wil Productions' presentation of Las Vegas actor and playwright Matt Martello's "Eagle River." The story revolves around the death of family patriarch Uncle Harry and the cash inheritance of $100,000 he promises his bickering nephews Ken and Tommy, if they can stop fighting and find it in the family cabin on Eagle River, Wisconsin. So they gather everyone there to mourn Harry's passing, look for the money, and hopefully resolve their differences. As with reunions like this, much drinking and arguing ensues. While the script sometimes feels didactic and drawn out, Martello has a knack for capturing the natural rhythms of speech and also relationships between people, and there is a sincerity to the show that might appeal to many.

Co-directed by Arik Cunningham and Greg Korin, the performances swing between naturalistic and way over the top, even within individual actors. There are nicely staged moments, like the opening scene which features brothers the sensible Ken, played by Martello, and hothead Tommy, played by Don Charette, Jr., having separate, overlapping phone conversations with the sick Harry, played by Korin. But Las Vegas magician Tommy has a guilt complex and an argumentative nature, so Charette spends part of the show yelling at the top of his lungs, at one person or another.

Tommy does redeem himself in the end, but his explosive, sustained anger can be tiring and it's a mystery why the directors don't better modulate the levels in these exchanges, like the one he has with their aunt Margaret, portrayed by Ginny Robbins Beall. Margaret is an unpleasant, bitter alcoholic, and is a sloppy drunk, forever swigging from huge bottles of liquor (which are always empty, a minor quibble). Beall is a fine actress though she tends to over-exaggerate the drunkenness. But she also finds redemption, during a sentimental scene with Tommy's daughter Carly, played by Alexis Ross, who lights up the stage with youthful exuberance. She and James Cummings as Ken's grumpy teenage son Caleb--who is always playing games on his phone--give realistic portrayals of the younger generation, and Rose Magee as Joanne is understated as well. But the most well-crafted performance of the show belongs to Brenda Mandabach as Ken's wife Rebecca, the humble mom who takes care of everyone and maintains equilibrium among the clashing personalities. She has such a pleasant, natural quality that she makes acting look easy.

Showtimes: June 14@7:30pm, June 15@4pm, June 16@5:30pm, Black Box.

For exact curtain days and times, check the LVLT website; https://www.lvlt.org

When: Thursday - Sunday through June 16; times vary

Best of Fringe Encore performances: 6/21 & 6/22; 8:00pm

Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive

Tickets: $12 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)

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Check out our Fringe-Aversary Part One coverage here!

Check out our Fringe-Aversary Part Two coverage here!

Check out our Fringe-Aversary Part Three coverage here!

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