By Owen Bryant
What a year 2021 has been for Reno theaters. After being closed for over a year with no productions to bring in the people and the dough, things looked pretty bleak for them all. But now that they’re back in the swing of things, we are seeing just how resilient and ready to wow these companies are.
Restless Artists Theatre is no exception, and I am thrilled to see them rearing their heads along with the rest of the Reno theater scene. RAT’s latest production, Deer, written by Aaron Mark and directed by D. A. Mishler, is a pleasing return to form.
A dark comedy wrought with irony and intrigue, Deer’s sardonic attitude seems almost too appropriate for these “trying times” in which we currently live.
Times are just as trying for the characters in the show. Ken (James Miller) and Cynthia (Debra Lynn Hall), a couple whose relationship is very much on the rocks, are on their way to a country cabin for some bonding time. Their trip is marred before they even arrive when they hit a deer in the road and must decide what to do with its bloody carcass. Doe, as Cynthia affectionately names the deer, then becomes an unassuming sounding board for both Cynthia and Ken, and a catalyst for upheaval in a marriage that is almost as dead as the deer in the road.
What makes the story so engaging is that, just as in real life, one traumatic event can unexpectedly open a whole other can of worms. That scenario is compounded when one is stuck alone with the very thing–or person–that is part of the problem.
Unable to distract themselves, Ken and Cynthia keep grasping for the peace they so desperately want but are forced to confront each other and themselves in the process. Though the situation is presented in a comedic and sometimes surreal manner, the real weight of it is something anyone can understand.
Without giving too much away, Doe (Derek Shane Sullivan) is just as much a character in the story as Ken and Cynthia. Aside from providing perhaps the most upbeat moments of comic relief, Doe’s presence makes you wonder just what exactly is going on in Ken’s and Cynthia’s heads. Which one is more rational, or are they both just crazy?
It is one thing to have two characters with personality flaws, but when their reliability is called into question, then you find yourself second guessing the entire situation. By the second act, you will believe anything can happen, and it will probably be nuts.
All three actors brilliantly bring their characters to life on stage. They are funny, annoying and touching when they need to be, and propel the story along with lengthy monologues that help you understand just what the character is thinking–and why the others can’t stand them.
For such an intimately sized theatre, I am always impressed by what the company at RAT can do to transform a set. The interior of the cabin is as cozy as you would expect. Until the blood hits the carpet, that is.
Apparently, Deer was the show RAT was planning to produce right before the COVID-19 shut down in early 2020. This is a strangely excellent choice for them to return to, especially during this second post-COVID holiday season. We all could use a little comedy in our lives, even if it is on the darker side, so consider giving this one a shot.
Deer plays at Restless Artists Theatre through Dec. 19. Visit rattheatre.org or call 775-525-3074 for more information.