Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Also see Mary's recent review of Topdog/Underdog
To be sure, the station is secure and well provisioned. (At least there's plenty of crunchy cereal and lab-grown meat substitute.) So the folks have lots of time to speculate on what has happened, to share stories about what Earth was like before the environmental cataclysm, and to wonder if there is really any point in going home anyway.
If Hell is other people, as Sartre claimed, then what do you call it when the others start to die off? Which unlucky soul is going to be left alone? As things get grimmer, and stranger, the dwindling crew face the gradual loss of benchmarks that have defined their existence: memories, the marking of time, the sense of self versus others, and even the certainty of what's real and what isn't. Eventually we, too, feel as lost as the characters.
A Public Fit Theatre Company has done a fine job with this mind-bender of a play. Director Jake Staley's smart pace and traverse staging keep us looking back and forth like tennis spectators, wondering which end of the stage will present the next surprise. Whitney Lehn Meltz's scenic design captures the efficiency, sterility, and mind-numbing blandness of a perfectly adequate residential workplace that can never be a home.
If anything is lacking, it's a sense that these characters are real people. They do not present convincingly as either scientists or astronauts. (Perhaps a sit-down or shadowing session with some science faculty or graduate students would have helped the actors to prepare.) Nor do they seem totally real in the flesh-and-blood sense. The earth's environmental collapse comes across less as their collective tragedy than as the MacGuffin that explains how they got thrown together in their expensive tin can. This makes it hard to feel empathy for their suffering, and turns the play into more of an intellectual exercise–a rigorous one to be sure–than a fully absorbing theatrical experience.
Every play is a challenge, and X certainly raises the bar. It provides more than the usual fodder for The Buzz, A Public Fit's traditional post-performance chat. And you'll probably find yourself replaying scenes in your head on the drive home. But at least you have a home to go to.
X runs through March 4, 2024, at SST Studio Theater, 4340 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets ($35-$40) and information, please visit apublicfit.org.