In exploring the ragged, shady history of Las Vegas, Caron Kreitzer uncovers plenty of intriguing material. Molding that into a satisfying whole? It's not there yet.
Kreitzer's play Flesh and the Desert packs a lot of ideas into a single package, but it's never clear what she's trying to craft. A satiric look at Vegas? An honest exploration of love and relationships at different stages? A history lesson about the city and the nearby nuclear bomb tests? With all of this in play, a game cast of eight performers do as well as they can with the material in Workhaus's production, which runs through this weekend at the Playwrights' Center.
Told through interlocking and overlapping stories, the main focus is on three couples: an older pair who fell in love in the city while working in the nightclubs, two current-generation residents of the city, and the ghosts of Bugsy Siegel and his squeeze, Virginia.
Interspersed with all of this are little moments with the likes of Liberace, Elvis, Siegfried and Roy, and Orson Welles -- who apparently had a magic show at some point on the strip -- as the spirits of the city and the casinos share moments and history. Maybe the best part of the show comes at the top, when a slot machine cajoles and begs her mark to stay and keep playing, just until the winner comes up.
Photo by Aaron Fenster
By this point, I was unsure of where any of this was going, and that continued until the end. The play could have stopped after any number of scenes in the last half hour and it would have been just as satisfying -- in other words, not really -- as when it did finally come to an end.
That doesn't mean there aren't individual moments that work quite well. The scenes with the older couple, Carter and Barbara, are brought beautifully to life by Gabriele Angieri and Maggie Bearmon Pistner. The other half dozen performers work hard to give their characters some depth, even when that happens to be Fat Elvis.
While most of the characters had their moments, Amanda Whisner was saddled with a dull-as-dirt roll, dubbed The Scientist, who shared info-dumps about the history of the city, along with her own connection to the bomb testing in Nevada and cancer. The character never got off the ground, and her poetic speeches had all the insight of a junior-high literary journal.
That's really what made this ultimately a frustrating experience. Flesh and the Desert has the pieces, but hasn't fit them together to make a picture of the city.
IF YOU GO
Flesh and the Desert
Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis