The dark consequences of politics and a failing economy take center stage in the Workshop Theater’s production of Mesquite, NV, by Leegrid Stevens, directed by Thomas Coté. Bouncy text and clear storytelling help relate this tale, at first bizarre yet comically quirky, later sharp and sad and bitter. Is it the blind ambition of politics, the coarse and unbecoming voters, the headline grabbing coverage with perverse and obnoxious comments? Whatever it is, it can rip a community apart.
The mayoral election in Mesquite, NV is on the horizon, and incumbent Linda Hadley, played by Liz Amberly, is looking to be the first mayor re-elected in city history. But councilwoman Anna, played by Jackie Jenkins, has waged a campaign of her own, a decision that sets off a series of events that ultimately rip the town apart. Performed as an ensemble with performers creating the soundscape and minimal set, the work is very much about the performers in the space -- a fine way to represent a community, and a clear homage to Our Town.
Mesquite, NV is wise to borrow structurally from Our Town, America’s seminal work on small towns. The aching heart of the story is the repercussions of financial distress on a community, and the sad decisions and bad decisions that follow. The play addresses this without pointing at it, an effective means to allow the moral to embed itself and resonate. The 2008 recession plays a quizzical role in the American psyche — we are still angry about it but seem to make all the same decisions — so a strong yet digestible play about the subject is well welcomed.
In the first act, the focus was dispersed across the community; Act Two found the focus turned more primarily on the mayor. The characters themselves are not what is dynamic about the play, but the town living through the trauma, making the bad decisions that they will soon regret. While some of that was still there in the second half, more would have driven home the gravity of the real life implications.
There’s an unmistakable community theater feel to the work, even a children's theater feel, and that buoyant quality was both a virtue and a demerit. It is always wonderful to see performers be there to tell the story: it gives the work a personal human touch as opposed to a studied performer touch, which is notably helpful in a work about a community. But I never felt the characters were deeply feeling the implications of their circumstances -- also, I think, a result of the community theater feel. Nonetheless, it is a production choice I honor.