Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Reservoir Dolls
Off-Strip Productions
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's reviews of Constellations and Tribes


Jillian Austin and Valerie Carpenter Bernstein
Photo by Bill Hughes
Word has it that diet soda causes weight gain because it simply whets our appetite for sugar without satisfying it. Audiences that see Off-Strip Productions' Reservoir Dolls may experience a similar reaction. The most frequent comment overheard while exiting the theatre on Saturday night was, "I want to see the movie again."

The brilliance of Quentin Tarantino's 1992 Reservoir Dogs is supremely evident on the Onyx Theatre stage, because so much of Erika Soerensen's play is lifted verbatim from the film. Even the nicely rendered set by Roxy Mojica mimics the film's scenic design, right down to the ramp on which Ms. Orange (Abby Dandy) lies bleeding from a gunshot wound to her gut. (She remains there throughout intermission, and selfies are encouraged.)

The idea of a gender-bending adaptation of Tarantino's iconic film about a daylight jewelry heist gone disastrously wrong is not without appeal. But the execution here is baffling. There is no evidence of a feminine perspective, no trace of irony, and only the faintest whiff of parody or satire. Tarantino's male hoodlums are replaced by female hoodlums. Fine. But why are they still wearing men's suits, ties, and white button-down shirts? Some of them have beautifully coiffed hair, accessorized in one case with enormous hoop earrings. A few even wear high heels—always a smart choice when committing armed robbery.

If the play's ethos were over-the-top pastiche, this might just work. But Soerensen has added little of substance to the source material. Tarantino's trademark blend of comedy and grit is evident throughout—only because his material has been blatantly copied. The occasional injections of original content (including Ms. Orange's dying rant against Ms. Blonde's hair and shoes) seem jarring by contrast, although they hint at the creative possibilities that the playwright could have explored.

For the most part, the actresses seem uncomfortable with the material. With few exceptions, even those with obvious acting chops (including the promising Jillian Austin as Ms. Pink, the Steve Buscemi role) struggle with Tarantino's quirky, rapid dialogue. In a capable performance as the mastermind and boss Jo Cabot, Gail Romero talks the talk convincingly, but in a world where all of the characters still respond to conventionally masculine signals despite their gender, she fails to convey the gravitas or physical menace of an alpha dog. Only Valerie Carpenter Bernstein as Ms. White succeeds in fully inhabiting her role (played by Harvey Keitel in the film) by creating a believable feminine counterpart to Tarantino's creation. While some of the performers simply lack the acting skills to tackle their characters, the relative success of veterans Romero and Bernstein leaves us with a hint of what might have been.

This is reportedly the fourth version of Soerensen's script; previous variations were produced in California, Seattle, and Portland. However, the fruits of those development efforts are difficult to discern, leaving us with only a bastardized version of a unique and memorable film.

Kudos to the designer and crew that devised the steady trickle of pale and slightly soapy blood that grows into a bigger and bigger pool on the stage throughout act two. Watching its progress—and the actresses' prodigious efforts to step around it—is almost worth the price of admission.

Reservoir Dolls continues through January 31, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 5 pm) at the Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89104. Tickets ($20) are available at onyxtheatre.com.

Jo Cabot: Gail Romero
Ms. Blonde: Lissa Townsend Rodgers
Nice Gal Edie: Deven Ceriotti
Ms. Orange: Abby Dandy
Ms. White: Valerie Carpenter Bernstein
Ms. Blue: Heather Silvio
Ms. Pink: Jillian Austin
Ms. Brown: April Sauline
Cop: Andrew Young

Directed by Troy Heard; Scenic Design by Roxy Mojica; Lighting Design by Taylor Ryberg; Costume Design by Sam Murphy; Sound Design by Joel Ruud; Special Effects Design by Deven Ceriotti.


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