'Pink Champagne' marvelously slight

Nov. 07, 2009
by Anthony Del Valle
Las Vegas Review-Journal

If you have time to see only the first act of Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "Pink Champagne," you should appreciate your good fortune. Master of Fine Arts candidate Neil Haven's domestic comedy is ripe with surprising humor and quirky characters in its first half, and plagued with obviousness in the second.

Fiery-tempered Gene (Will Klundt) has just found out his 17-year-old son Joey (Derek Alcaraz) is gay, and he's not taking it well. He may have given the kid a black eye. Joey shows up on the doorstep of Grandpa Donald (Brandon Stauffer) and his lover Patrick (Aaron Marcotte). Grandpa hasn't spoken to son Gene in ages, and he welcomes Joey's request to move in.

The script, at its best, is slight, but it's marvelously slight. Haven knows how to write one-liners that are more than mere jokes. (When Grandpa finds out about Joey's black eye, he tries to explain it away with, "He's gay! He's going to get jumped on now and then!")

But oh, that second act. Haven turns preacher and doesn't seem to trust the audience to figure anything out. The author presents big-league problems -- physical abuse, dysfunctional families, gay intolerance -- and then ties everything up with 1950s-sitcom simplicity. If only life were as easy to fix as Haven's writing suggests.

There is a lack of depth throughout. Anti-gay Gene, for example, has in his home framed photos of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. That's really a cheap shot. And Grandpa's living room is decorated with posters of Broadway musicals. No one will ever accuse this play of debunking stereotypes. But when Haven's rhythms and dialogue are on the mark, he demonstrates a gift for teasing stereotypes. He's a likable writer who, I suspect, will grow far more likable once he learns not to overstate.

Director Michael Tylo gives the script the frenzied pace it needs and gets expert performances from his five-member cast. The actors are able to convey the love these people have for each other, which is amazing, considering all the screaming going on.

Klundt is especially poignant. We can see the wheels of guilt turning in his character's head as he tires to figure out how to win back his son. And when he struggles to show affection by putting his arm on his child's shoulder, we can feel how difficult this is for him.