Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
A Summons from the Tinker to Assemble the Membership in Secret at the Usual Place
Entertainment in Las Vegas is big on spectacle, but short on drama. The gifted performers who sing, dance, soar, and spin for tourists on a daily basis have few opportunities to exercise the full range of their talents. Fortunately, a handful of professional companies have emerged to fill this void. One of these is A Public Fit Theatre Company, the brainchild of CSN theatre professor and UNLV alumnus Ann-Marie Pereth. On the heels of last year's award-winning Foxfinder, Pereth and co-director/playwright Joseph Kucan have created A Summons from the Tinker to Assemble the Membership in Secret at the Usual Place, an immersive drama inspired by Fritz Lang's 1931 screen thriller M.
The interaction begins as the audience arrives, ushered from the parking lot into an alley by a motley crew of underworld characters, and invited to self-identify with one of the four "guilds" they represent: thieves, bookmakers, prostitutes, and beggars. The purpose of the summons is soon announced. With a serial child-killer on the loose, enhanced law enforcement activity has put a serious damper on the day-to-day business of crime. To restore the status quo, the criminals themselves have captured the killer and have convened this assembly of felonsaudience includedto serve as jurors and dispatch expedient justice. The action then moves inside to a windowless bunker, housing the terrified prisoner (the Peter Lorre film role, here convincingly portrayed by baby-faced Mark Gorman) in a makeshift courtroom under harsh interrogation lights.
Christopher Brown is a malevolent and commanding presence as the ruthless underworld boss and self-appointed prosecutor known as the Tinker. Assuring the assembled mob that the trial will be scrupulously fair, he immediately anoints the resident drunkard Hankel (Joe Kucan) to serve as defense attorney. Little matter that the eye-witness testimony has an obvious flaw; nothing, it appears, will stop this juggernaut.
To maintain the façade of justice, however, the Tinker cannot summarily decide the prisoner's fate. He needs the buy-in of his criminal peers. Now warmed up to their interactive roles, the audience weighs in, and questions of compassion, moral authority, and personal responsibility emerge.
Playwright Kucan has cleverly combined a structured drama with improvisation in a way that encourages audience participation without derailing the forward momentum of the play. Audiences unsure of whether they will enjoy a conventional stage play can rest assured that this is not a traditional experience.
Additional standouts in the strong cast include Scott Carl McAdam, channeling a somber Nathan Detroit as Tinker's henchman Peder, and Ranson Lewis, bursting with adolescent energy as Thilo, the youngest member of the criminal syndicate.
The set design by Eric Koger blends perfectly with the venue's bare industrial space. Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova's costumes contribute to the noirish feel, and Joshua Wroblewski's subtle lighting design gives every audience member a hint of the interrogation experience.
Each performance concludes with The Buzz, an optional talkback with the cast and creative team.
A Public Theatre Company's A Summons from the Tinker to Assemble the Membership in Secret at the Usual Place continues through November 1, 2015, (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm) at the Fremont Village (behind the PublicUs coffee house), 100 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101. Box Office online: www.apublicfit.org.