Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Speed of Darkness
Also see Mary's recent review of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play
Wounded veteran Joe appears to have achieved the American dream, with a terrific wife and daughter, a hatful of military medals, and a successful construction business. Unlike many veterans of the unpopular war, he is lauded as a hometown hero, and has even been nominated as South Dakota's Man of the Year. Yet he refuses to discuss any aspect of his wartime experience, including the nature of his injury, and harbors other secrets as well. When his army buddy Lou, now homeless, makes an unexpected visit, Joe's neat but troubled life threatens to unravel.
When it was first produced in 1989, The Speed of Darkness had a currency that it lacks today, New generations of wounded warriors have replaced Joe and Lou, and the unique experience of the Vietnam war is no longer a fresh memory or, for younger audiences, any memory at all. Even in its time, Tesich's play was too formulaic to provide a true catharsis. LVLT has taken a significant risk in staging this revival. Thanks to a strong cast and director David McKee, the results, while mixed, are very good overall. In a play with this level of intensity, McKee and his actors tease out the moments of humor that provide essential leavening.
Jacob Moore is excellent in the demanding role of Joe, portraying fatherly love, brooding pain, and bottled up fury when pushed to his limits. If he occasionally borders on speechmaking, the fault lies in the writing, not the interpretation.
Melissa Riezler is flawless as Anne, Joe's loving wife who shares his suffering without full knowledge of its cause. As their daughter Mary, Isabella Rooks is equally impressive, conveying the emotional ups and downs of a typical teenager without a single false note.
In the showy role of the eccentric and loquacious Lou, Michael Close brings electricity to his every scene. For those old enough to remember the real homeless veterans of the late '80s and early '90s, the character as scripted is somewhat unrealistic. Close's thoughtful and intelligent performance overcomes many of the script's flaws. He is less than convincing, however, in a scene in which Joe and Lou stumble home after a hard night of drinking; while Joe is falling-down drunk, Lou seems mysteriously untouched by the booze. His otherwise-compelling performance is ably assisted by costume designer Jennifer McKee, who clearly did her homework in recreating the look of Lou's real-life counterparts from that era. Whoever designed Close's hair and make-up (Close himself, perhaps, whose father served in Vietnam) did a spot-on job of capturing the sun-beaten and weathered look of those damaged and homeless warriors.
Rounding out the cast, Connor Haley also does good work as Eddie, Mary's casual boyfriend and the play's occasional narrator. Eddie is perhaps the most poorly written of the characters, but Haley displays great stage presence and economy of style that bode well for his future roles.
McKee's direction is solid and generally well paced. On opening night, the pace of the production was marred by some overly long blackouts between scenes, necessitated no doubt by technical matters that ought to be remedied in later performances.
One major quibble: Twenty lashes with a wet noodle for the design and execution of the inexplicably (and distractingly) ugly Man of the Year Award, which partially self-destructed on opening night. Any prop that plays such an important role should be designed and rendered with greater care.
While the play includes some expletives, they are used in appropriate contexts and are nothing your teenagers haven't heard before.
The Speed of Darkness continues through March 27, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Dr., Las Vegas. For tickets ($15, seniors and students $14) or information, go to lvlt.org or call 702-362-7996.
Joe: Jacob Moore
Lighting design by Kendra Harris; Original music and sound design by Sandy Stein.