Flesh And The Desert by Workhaus Collective

Anna Sundberg, John Riedlinger and Sara Richardson in Flesh And The Desert. Photo by Aaron Fenster.

In Flesh And The Desert (Workhaus Collective performing at the Playwrights Center, through Jan 28), playwright Carson Kreitzer doesn’t concern herself with the air-conditioned glitter of contemporary Las Vegas – the Bellagio, the Venetian, pot-bellied cowboys meandering through the neo-fascist splendor of Caesar’s Palace.  None of this.

Rather, Kreitzer wants to examine the Vegas ghosts, of which there are, here in the climate-challenged twenty-first century, many.  She takes us into the haunted Nevada desert, where Virginia Hill wanders, listlessly looking for her lost Bugsy Seigel.  Where Sandy and Wayne (their real names?) share desultory kisses and exaggerated (one imagines) life stories.  Where the pitiless stars peer down – I believe the entire play happens at night – on this bizarre city.

Kreitzer shows us the down-market performance venues – the old Flamingo, perhaps – home to over-the-hill magicians, Elvis impersonators, frozen-smile showgirls, fallen saints, hookers.  She brings us into a house-trailer (or so my interpretation goes) where Parkinson’s-afflicted musicians spin nostalgic stories about the days of single name headliners: Ella, Frank, Sammy, the Count, et al.  Everything gets jumbled together, in a mix as weird and disjointed as Las Vegas itself.  Kreitzer has a great sense of this city and she makes us feel it as well.

Flesh And The Desert is beautifully acted.  There isn’t a dull performance in the play (kudos to director Ben McGovern).  A growing and enthusiastic coterie will be pleased to learn that Anna Sundberg is in the play; she is luminous as always.  Sara Richardson is terrific.  Ditto Leif Jurgensen; his go at Liberace delights.  Everyone is good.  The evening crackles along.

Still.  I can’t help but feel that Flesh And The Desert (terrific title, btw)  got away from its author.  The piece is relentlessly imagistic and hallucinatory.  Images fly at us.  Scenes are short.  Repetition is overused, often flattening the play (we see the showgirls, Seigel and Hill, the musicians, et al, imo, entirely too often).  I enjoyed the fragmented non-linear structure, but if you’re looking for characters, relationships and a plot you can glom onto, you may find Flesh And The Desert frustrating. Despite its fast-moving pace, the whole enterprise feels long.

Still, there is a lot of terrific stuff here.  Kreitzer is a writer of sharp and unfancy intelligence.  And Workhaus is Minnesota’s only playwright-focused theater, greatly deserving of support.

For more information about John Olive, visit his website.

 

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