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The Only Light in Reno

a Drama
by Topher Payne

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 4531

SHOWING : January 09, 2014 - January 26, 2014



GET audiences’ favorite Atlanta playwright is back fast on the heels of his successes here with "Tokens of Affection" and "Swell Party." This brand new play is set in Reno in August of 1960. It is 106 degrees outside. Filming on the Hollywood movie “The Misfits” is hopelessly behind schedule, with no end in sight. The Sierra Mountains are on fire, and Reno is in total blackout. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift are playing board games with an accused murderess, and Marilyn Monroe is locked in the bathroom. The story of when Hollywood came to The Biggest Little City in the World, and everything went up in flames.

Playwright Topher Payne
Director Shannon Eubanks
Montgomery Clift Johnny Drago
Paula Strasberg Elizabeth A. Genge
Libby Holman Shelly McCook
Marilyn Monroe Rachel Sorsa
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


No Reno We Know
by playgoer
Sunday, January 19, 2014
"The Only Light in Reno" is based on historical fact, concerning filming of "The Misfits" and the premiere of "Let’s Make Love" in Reno during wildfires that have cut electricity to the city. A generator has been hooked up to Marilyn Monroe’s hotel suite, where a small group of celebrities gather. John Huston is stuck in an elevator offstage, and Arthur Miller (husband of Marilyn Monroe and writer of "The Misfits") is downstairs, refusing to come up. LOTS of other celebrity names are dropped during the course of the play.

The show starts slowly, with Montgomery Clift and Libby Holman discussing Cole Porter. Cole, like Clift, was a closeted homosexual, and the conversation is intended to introduce this facet of his personality. Some introduction is probably necessary, since Libby Holman and Montgomery Clift are the real-life figures probably least known to today’s audiences, but it gets us off to a bit of a clunky start. It doesn’t help that Libby is wearing a dress that is supposed to be Marilyn’s for the premiere of "Let’s Make Love." The substantial Shelly McCook, cast as Libby Holman, is hardly the size of Marilyn Monroe (or of Rachel Sorsa, who plays Marilyn here), so that plot point is contradicted by our own eyes. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

This is not the only casting that does a disservice to the play. Johnny Drago seems too callow for the part of Montgomery Clift, and Kate Donadio is too willowy, soprano-voiced, and narrow-eyed for Elizabeth Taylor. The only case in which casting does justice to the real-life character is with Rachel Sorsa as Marilyn Monroe. She gets the voice, the mannerisms, and movement down just right. Elizabeth A. Genge, playing Marilyn’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg, doesn’t have an iconic film image to live up to, and also succeeds in her portrayal.

Topher Payne has created relationships among the characters that generally ring true, but there is a section where Marilyn makes good, insightful points that are acknowledged as such, yet later Elizabeth calls her shallow and mindless. This seems unkind and untruthful in the context of the play. Elizabeth is portrayed as someone who wants to get things squared away in a rational, orderly manner, so some conflict with the vague and insecure Marilyn is warranted, but the later speech sounds as if it came from an earlier draft of the play where relationships hadn’t yet been fleshed out completely.

Jonathan Rollins’ set is spare and 1960’s-modern, with an upstage window that gives a view to the mountains surrounding Reno. The back wall is somewhat shorter than the kitchen and living room walls downstage of it, and the balance isn’t quite right. Above the back wall is a large-scale rendering of the word "Reno" (and, in act two, an even larger-scale moon). The living room wall is high enough that it obscures the bottom portion of "Reno," at least from some seats in the audience.

Bryan Rosengrant’s lighting design is generally quite good, with lighting following the one lit lamp (a multi-necked floor lamp that Shelly McCook uses to great effect to underline the upcoming movie premiere). A star effect in the window upstage for act two is blurry and unfocused, though, which detracts a little from the production. Physically, the production is not quite as sleek as it needs to be.

Abby Parker’s costumes are memorable, with fashions running the gamut from stay-at-home casual to movie premiere glamor. MC Park’s props are also quite good. Sound design, by Jason Polhemus, lets the dialogue be heard, although Ms. Genge doesn’t always project as clearly as the other cast members, allowing a bit of obvious amplification to seep into the sound mix.

"The Only Light in Reno" really comes into its own in act two, when darkness and drama weigh heavily. Libby Holman and Paula Strasberg, whose characters have been used primarily for comic effect in act one, are revealed to have unexpected depths. The focus remains on Marilyn, who has to decide whether to spend a week in rehab or be fired from "The Misfits," but the ramifications of her decision broaden to include the full cast in one way or another. It’s a fairly satisfying ending to the play.

Director Shannon Eubanks has given the script the emphases it needs, and has provided an eloquent set of notes in the program (notwithstanding misspelling of the word "poring"). The production may not be perfect, but its bones are good, and Mr. Payne should be proud that his work is being given such a loving treatment at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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