Living up to it

Nevada Rep’s Comic Potential is a clever, cute love story with a strong cast

Rated 4.0

Ladies, if your dating life is in a “Mars and Venus” funk and you’ve been trying to drag your boyfriend to the theater for months, then Nevada Repertory Company’s Comic Potential may be just the ticket. It’s a clever, cute love story with plenty of raunchy humor and an attractive leading lady who flaunts some sexy lingerie.

British satirist Alan Ayckbourn sets his play in a television studio of the future, where high-tech machines called Actoids have replaced human actors. The actual humans sit back and manipulate the controls to create clichéd, ratings-friendly TV shows.

Adam Trainsmith (Casey Maxwell) is an idealistic young writer and nephew of a media mogul who visits the set of the soap opera Hospital Hearts to meet his hero, Chandler Tate (Brian Barney). Trainsmith gets more than he bargained for, finding a washed-up and bitter Tate, as well as a beautiful and charming Actoid (Cassie J. Hill) who seems far more human than her programming should allow.

The play delivers biting satire of the television industry and its audiences, with the shows of the future being even shorter and less cerebral than today’s basest programming. While the play is fundamentally a comedy, it is not a two-hour laugh fest.

The heart of the plot is a poignant Pinocchio-esque love story. Hill is absolutely captivating as the Actoid Jacie (short for JCF31333, her serial number). She captures her character’s innocence and complexity equally well and could easily have carried the show even if she weren’t backed by such a remarkably solid supporting cast.

Thirteen actors play 23 characters, a wise decision by director Dr. Jim Bernardi. There are no compromises in terms of talent—each actor shines, no matter how minor the role. Gary Carlson and Kris Wallek give brilliant performances as ordinary Actoids. Carlson’s robotic mannerisms and Wallek’s ability to over-emote at the touch of a button hilariously encapsulate the essence of mechanical soap opera stars. Tyler Dean draws big laughs from the relatively small role of Marmion, personal assistant and voice of infirm tycoon Lester Trainsmith (an amusing Gary L. Metzker). Natalie Sullivan also gives a noteworthy performance as studio director Carla Pepperbloom, whose humorless austerity sets up the most satisfying comic payoff in the show.

Although a couple of jokes fall flat and the actors could play more to the audience members on the sides of the stage, the show’s only serious problems are script-related. As if a man falling in love with an android were not problematic enough, Ayckbourn heaps on additional tension in the second act and gives his characters a few more arguments than necessary. At times, the story becomes bogged down in the soap opera sentimentality it so happily skewers in its better scenes.

Nevada Repertory Company must be commended for making the most of an imperfect script. This talented group of performers delivers a sweet, sad, thought-provoking comedy that lives up to its potential.