By Stefanie Boyd
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Nebraska is not a Rogers & Hammerstein frontier-sequel: no winds come sweeping down the plain.
The UA Theatre Arts Department's current production is a well-performed, slice-of-life comedy staged outside of a strategic air command base near Omaha, Nebraska.
Dean Swift (Tod Zimmerman) and his wife Julie (Suzy Schultze) have been stationed at the base after a recent relocation from Germany. Dean is a likeable good ol' boy given to a little infidelity and after-work drinking with the guys. Julie spends most of her time wrecking the car and worrying about Dean's waning interest in their marriage.
Nebraska is successfully entertaining despite the absence of action. The first act is characterized by charming dialogue and the amusing idiosyncracies of everyday behavior. Dean's interaction with his preachy best friend (F. Michael Alvarado) and superior officer's pitiful attempts at gaining acceptance among his employees make for some interesting observation.
Director Brent Gibbs achieves a surprisingly successful effect using television monitors. The use of TV or film clips is a popular stage technique, but one which is difficult to pull off. Audiences tend to resist the introduction of this foreign medium into theater and are often more distracted by it than charmed.
Gibbs initially uses the monitors as props in the base's control room and then subtly turns them into tools which inform the audience of simultaneous events. The idea is creative and smoothly executed.
By the second act a couple of central ideas seem to be crystallizing from Nebraska's entanglement of issues, but it still lacks an identifiable theme. The play is far from boring and the acting is enjoyable, but what the hell is it about? Until the last 10 minutes, nothing really happens in Nebraska.
The end weakly addresses whether people ever change and hints a little about the worth of an unexamined life, but the final punch is not definite enough to reach the audience forcefully. Nebraska ends seeming like writer Keith Reddin wanted to author a play but didn't have a clear theme in mind.
All three leading men in Nebraska perform well. Their acting feels believable and natural, very polished. Ralph Valencia, Jr. also performs a very convincing, gullible cadet in a small, but enjoyable role.
Unfortunately, there is a noticeable talent gap between the men and the women in this production. All three actresses are frustratingly stiff and contrived. They're always just a couple of expressions or vocal inflections away from becoming believable.
Nebraska is playing until April 9 at the Sixth Street Theatre at Sixth and Fremont. For more information call the Fine Arts box office at 621-1162. Read Next Article